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U.S. Open Cup Format Revealed, Portland Timbers Vie for 1 of 2 Spots

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Finally!

When the MLS regular season schedule ws released last week I had assumed that the U.S. Open Cup schedule/format would be released along with it. I had assumed wrongly, of course, as the U.S. Soccer Federation decided to take a bit longer to get their act together long enough to hand us a structure and schedule for the upcoming 2011 U.S. Open Cup tournament.

For those who are unfamiliar with the tournament, I'd urge you to check out my Teaching Timbers series where I explain exactly what it is and why it's important.

Anyway, onto the structure of this year's tournament. As many have probably read around the web at this point, the NASL (provisional D2 soccer in America) will not be participating in this year's tournament. While the official reason remains that "there wasn't enough time to schedule them in," most believe there are other factors at play here. So, the current line up is as such:

Major League Soccer (Division I – 8 teams): Six automatic qualifiers based on the 2010 regular season standings and two qualifiers from a play-in competition that features 10 teams.

Automatic Qualifiers (6 berths): Columbus Crew, FC Dallas, Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders
Play-in Qualifiers (2 berths): Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids, D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting Kansas City

United Soccer Leagues PRO (Division III – 11 teams): All U.S.-based clubs automatically qualify.
Automatic Qualifiers (11 berths): Charleston Battery, Charlotte Eagles, Dayton Dutch Lions, Harrisburg City Islanders, Los Angeles Blues, FC New York, Orlando City, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Rhinos, Wilmington Hammerheads

United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (Amateur – 9 teams): The top U.S.-based club from each of nine PDL divisions will qualify based on the results of four pre-selected 2011 regular season games. Each of the 54 teams eligible will play two home and two away matches that will serve as qualifiers.

U.S. Adult Soccer Association (Amateur – 8 teams): The first and second place teams from each of the four U.S. Soccer regions will advance to the tournament. Approximately 50 teams entered qualifying at the local or state level.

National Premier Soccer League (Amateur – 4 teams): The process for determining NPSL qualifying teams will be announced in the coming weeks. The 36-team national amateur league is affiliated with the USASA. In previous years its teams participated via USASA regional qualifying.

My singular problem with this schedule is the way MLS berths were doled out. As a tournament, the U.S. Open Cup has very little to do with the MLS regular season. As such, I see little reason why six of our 8 berths are immediately granted to the top American MLS sides from the 2010 season (Vancouver and Toronto are not eligible). As it stands we now have to battle for one of only two available spots.

In my perfect soccer world, the top two finalists from the previous tournament -- Seattle Sounders and Columbus Crew in this case -- would gain an automatic berth with the remaining six spots being left up to play-in qualifiers. Makes more sense to me anyway.

Oh well, here's the loose schedule:

2011 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Schedule
May 30: Qualifying Deadline
June 14: First Round (32 teams from USL PRO and Amateur Division)
June 21: Second Round (First round winners)
June 28: Third Round (Second round winners paired against eight MLS teams)
July 12: Quarterfinals
Aug. 30: Semifinals
Oct. 4: Final

So solid game day schedules have been released just yet, or at least not posted anywhere I've searched yet.