In the centennial year of the U.S. Soccer Federation, the U.S. Open Cup has undergone a few changes that should improve the quality of the competition.
The most significant news is that hosting rights for the semifinal and final will be determined by a straight coin flip. Previously, there was a sealed bidding process to host those games.
Last year marked the first Open Cup in a long time with any coin flip-based hosting. Home teams in rounds before the semifinals were determined by a coin flip if both participating teams bid to host.
In previous years of MLS participation – going back to the 1990's - hosting rights were determined almost entirely by sealed bids.
Along with random draw in all rounds, teams will not be able to sell or buy hosting rights to games once draws are announced. This will increase the potential for upsets, as higher-division teams are more likely to have to travel to lower-division teams.
The other major change is that the amount of prize money in the tournament has increased. The winner will receive $250,000 (up from $100,000), the runner-up will receive $60,000 (up from $50,000), and the team that advances the farthest from each lower division involved will receive $15,000 (up from $10,000).
So let's get into how this year's Open Cup will be structured. First, we need to lay out the hierarchy of divisions in American soccer:
Division 1: Major League Soccer (16 teams)
Division 2: North American Soccer League (6 teams)
Division 3: USL PRO (12 teams)
Division 4: USL Premier Development League (12 teams), National Premier Socer League (8 teams), United States Adult Soccer Association (8 teams), U.S. Club Soccer (1 team), United States Specialty Sports Association (1 team)
The complete list of teams from every division participating in the Open Cup can be found on this page at TheCup.us, a site that maintains an extensive archive of Open Cup history.
All of the organizations in Division 4 are amateur. The PDL and NPSL and PDL are the best-known competitions, and include amateur affiliates of many MLS teams. One such example is Reading United, a PDL team that is coached by Philadelphia Union assistant coach Brendan Burke.
The USASA gained major prominence last year when former U.S. national team striker Eric Wynalda coached Cal FC to the fourth round of the tournament. Cal FC's Cinderella run included a win over the Portland Timbers at JELD-Wen Field.
U.S. Club Soccer first had a representative in the Open Cup last year, and the United States Specialty Sports Association is making its debut this year. If you hadn't heard of the USSSA until now, you aren't alone. There's more information here.
Here's the schedule of rounds for this year's Open Cup:
Play-in round on May 7 (2 games): One NPSL team will play the U.S. Club Soccer representative, and a second NPSL team will play the USSSA representative
First round on May 14 (18 games): The two winners from the play-in round plus the 30 other amateur teams in the field, plus four USL PRO teams: the Dayton Dutch Lions, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Phoenix FC Wolves and VSI Tampa Bay FC. Phoenix and Tampa Bay are expansion teams this year.
Second round on May 21 (16 games): The 18 winners from the first round plus the remaining eight USL PRO teams, plus the six NASL teams.
It's worth noting that the New York Cosmos, which will join the NASL for the autumn half of its 2013 season, will not participate in this year's Open Cup.
In addition, the Puerto Rico Islanders do not participate in the Open Cup at all. FIFA and CONCACAF classify Puerto Rico as a separate entity from the United States for international soccer competitions.
Third round on May 28 (16 games): The 16 winners from the second round plus the 16 MLS teams.
Why 16 MLS teams instead of 19, you might ask? The three Canadian teams - Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver - don't participate. They contest their own national championship with Canada's lone NASL team, FC Edmonton.
Fourth round on June 12 (8 games): Now the real knockout fun begins.
Quarterfinals on June 26
Semifinals on August 7 or 21
Final on October 1 or 2
Sporting Kansas City is the reigning U.S. Open Cup champion. Pennsylvania teams have won the Open Cup 12 times, including five by Bethlehem Steel - the team that inspired the Union's new third jersey. The commonwealth is tied with Missouri for the third-most Open Cups claimed by a state - New York is first with 26, and California is second with 15.
There's more about Pennsylvania's history in the U.S. Open Cup in this post from a while back.