The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup (USOC) is the biggest soccer knockout tournament in the United States. 104 teams are competing in the tournament in the 2024 edition, with 10 leagues being represented: MLS, USL Championship, USL1, USL2, NISA, NPSL, USASA, USSSA, USCS and ANFEEU. Houston Dynamo were last edition’s champions as they claimed their 2nd title, after they defeated Lionel Messi and Inter Miami in the final.
The USOC was founded for the 1913-1914 season, to try and promote American soccer. It was originally named the National Challenge Cup, which stuck until 1989 when it was then renamed the US Open Cup. In 1999, it was renamed again this time to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. This was to honor Hunt, an American businessman, who did a lot to promote soccer in this country.
Brooklyn Field Club was the first team to ever win the tournament in that 1914 season. Since then, Bethlehem Steel FC and Maccabee Los Angeles led the way with 5 Open Cup titles. Unfortunately, those two teams have dissolved, leaving the Chicago Fire, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City (MLS) and Greek American AA (EPSL) as the active championship leaders with 4 each.
MLS teams first entered the competition in 1996, and have dominated the winner’s podium since their introduction to the tournament. The last lower division team to win the USOC was the Rochester Raging Rhinos (now named Rochester New York FC) in 1999. Only three lower divisions teams have made the USOC Final since then, the Rhinos in 1996, the Charleston Battery in 2008 and most recently Sacramento Republic FC, who fell to Orlando City by a score of 3-0 in the 2022 edition.
This year is the second year back for the tournament after the COVID-19 pandemic caused cancellations to the 2020 and 2021 editions. Before that, the tournament had been played for 106 straight years. It is considered the nation’s oldest ongoing national soccer competition.
The state of North Carolina has never had a team qualify for the finals of the tournament. North Carolina will have 6 teams competing in the tournament looking to buck this trend, with the other 5 besides ACSC, being Charlotte FC from MLS, the USL Championship’s North Carolina FC, USL1’s Charlotte Independence, MLS Next Pro’s Carolina Core FC and the Blues’ USL2 rival Salem City FC. The last lower-division team from North Carolina to make the quarterfinals of the tournament was the NASL’s Carolina Railhawks, now known as North Carolina Football Club, who defeated the MLS’ Chivas USA and LA Galaxy before eventually falling to FC Dallas 5-2 back in 2014. The furthest a North Carolina team has made it since the introduction of MLS teams in 1996 was also the Railhawks, when back in 2007 they defeated the MLS’ Chicago Fire en route to the final four where they fell in extra time to the New England Revolution 2-1.
Asheville City is 1 of 11 USL2 teams to qualify for the tournament, 1 of 7 first-time USL2 qualifiers, and 1 of 2 South Central Division qualifiers along with SC United Bantams FC. The other USL2 debutants are reigning league champions Ballard FC, Chicago City SC, Hudson Valley Hammers, Redlands FC, and Vermont Green FC and other USL2 qualifiers are Brave SC (FKA The Villages SC), Chicago City SC, Des Moines Menace, and the Western Mass Pioneers. Only 4 of the 10 USL2 teams made the 2nd round last year and no clubs qualified for the 3rd round. However, USL2 clubs have experienced recent success as the last USL2 team to qualify for the round of 32 was FC Golden State Force in 2018, who defeated two USL Championship teams in Orange County SC and Las Vegas Lights FC on their way to that round, before falling to Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy 3-1. The furthest a USL2 team has advanced since the league’s inception was when the Richmond Kickers won the 1995 Open Cup, in their only season in USL2, which back then was named USISL Premier League, on penalty kicks against the El Paso Patriots.
There are eight rounds to the USOC, the first of which happens from March 19th-21st. The first round consists of three 11 USL teams, the Spring UPSL champions, the National Amateur Cup Winner, 8 NPSL teams, and 11 local qualifying teams. These matchups are typically regional games with teams usually matched up against other teams in their area. The 16 winners then move on to the second round, where they are joined by teams from USL Championship, MLS Next Pro (MLS-affiliated/farm teams are excluded), NISA, and USL League One. These matches take place from April 2nd-3rd. Then those 29 winners are joined by 17 MLS teams in the third round that spans from April 16th-17th. The 23 winners will then move onto the Round of 32, where the remaining 9 MLS teams will join up with them. Those games planned for May 7th-8th.
This is where the tournament becomes more straightforward, as all participating teams that have not been eliminated yet are now in the field of play. It becomes like a typical 32-team knockout tournament from this point on (think March Madness if it started from the second round) with the amount of teams left halving with each round. That means it will drop to 16 (May 21st-22nd), then to 8 in the quarterfinal round (July 9th-10th), down to 4 in the semifinals (August 27th-28th), and finally down to the final two teams where the champion will be crowned on September 25th. Over 100+ teams from 36 states will be dwindled to 1 over 6 months, with there usually being a fair amount of (C)upsets sprinkled in along the way. Cupsets are when a lower-division team upsets a team in the tier above them, which helps make the USOC magical and one of the most exciting sports tournaments to take place in America every year.
Where to Watch
Not all games are streamed nationally, unfortunately, with only 8 first and second-round games last year being streamed on the Bleacher Report app. The third round things become more available with games being either on Paramount+, CBS Sports Golazo Network, and Pluto TV. The deeper the rounds go, the more games there are televised. If games are not nationally televised, it is on the hosting team to televise the game. Depending on the game schedule, matchups, and hosting venues, ACSC will provide more information closer to the dates of the game(s) on where and how fans can watch the Boys in Blue make history in the USOC.