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2014 US Open Cup - The Breakdown

The format for this year's Lamar Hunt US Open Cup has changed, adding in the biggest pool of competitors in the modern era (1995-present). A few other rules changes should help MLS clubs actually take the tournament seriously. Read on for more.

Silverware is silverware, and the Houston Dynamo's trophy case sure could use another trophy.
Silverware is silverware, and the Houston Dynamo's trophy case sure could use another trophy.
Gene Sweeney Jr.

First things first. We all know Dominic Kinnear and Houston Dynamo have rarely, if ever, taken the US Open Cup seriously. The dates scheduled for competition tended to fall smack dab in the middle of heated league play, where teams had to decide what was more important. Is the competition yielding very little boost in fan support and financials more valuable than Major League Soccer regular season matches?

With MLS clubs now boasting 20-25 on-roster players, along with some clubs having the ability to recall loaned out youth, the excuses are dwindling rapidly. The extra rules for the tournament this year help press Division I (MLS) teams to put a larger emphasis on the competition.

The 16 US-based MLS teams will enter the tournament in the fourth round, facing the 16 third round winners. The important changes to the fourth round are as follows:

Each Division I team will be matched geographically to play the winner of a specific Third Round pairing. The exact date for each match will be determined by the club selected as the home team from among those dates where the visiting team doesn't have a league game already scheduled. The date selected must allow the visiting team at least two rest days before and after the match date.

I highlighted/bolded the important pieces above. These are important because the fourth round takes place June 10th through June 18th. Four MLS teams play on June 8th (New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, LA Galaxy and Chivas USA), while six MLS teams play on June 11th (Montreal Impact, DC United, Portland Timbers, FC Dallas, Chivas USA and Seattle Sounders).

This means New England, New York and LA Galaxy's fourth round matches will not place on the 10th, to allow for the full two days rest between matches. This also means Chivas USA, DC United, Portland Timbers, FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders's matches will not take place until the 14th at the earliest.

Following the fourth round, the 16 winners will be paired geographically and play their match June 24th or 25th. The sixth or quarterfinal round will take the 8 winners from round five pairing them geographically and their match will run either July 8th or 9th. The seventh round or semifinal round will take the 4 winners from round six pairing them geographically and their match will run either August 12th or 13th. The Final will take place September 30th or October 1st.

As a general note, the fifth round and later do not have the two rest days before and after the match date requirement. Major League Soccer took this into account, however, by not scheduling US-based clubs until June 27th at the earliest, or two days following the last competition date of the fifth round. Only three US-based MLS teams have a scheduled match on June 27th (New York Red Bulls, Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City). Houston Dynamo's first match following the World Cup break is June 28th in Montreal, which isn't exactly a huge win in scheduling, but I digress.

The Dynamo do play July 4th against New York Red Bulls here in Houston, and then again July 12th against Toronto FC in Toronto. If the Dynamo manage to play in the quarterfinal round (6th round), they would most likely play on July 8th to give as much rest between matches as possible.

Should the Dynamo manage to emerge victorious from the quarterfinal round, then scheduling and roster management becomes a bit tricky. The Dynamo have a match August 10th in Seattle and August 15th back here in Houston against Philadelphia Union. The semifinal round as stated before takes place either August 12th or 13th. It is possible Houston could play 3 matches in 5 days. I would hope, if the Dynamo were to secure a place in the semifinal round Major League Soccer would reschedule either the Seattle Sounders or Philadelphia Union matches. Otherwise, I wouldn't expect Dom or the boys to place any emphasis on the semifinal round over those two league matches meaning we would field almost exclusively substitutes and reserves, and we all have seen how well that has gone in the past.

Making for even more humor, should the Houston Dynamo emerge victorious from the semifinal round, the scheduling of the Final round would be just as tumultuous. As stated previously, the Final is currently slated for September 30th or October 1st. Houston plays September 28th here in Houston against Chicago Fire and then on October 4th against New York Red Bulls in New York (boo). The Final could easily make for a run of 3 matches in 7 days, but again there is some hope Major League Soccer would reschedule one of the league matches to allow for some rest.

So why should the Dynamo place any emphasis on the tournament at all? I can think of 250 thousand reasons. The winner of the US Open Cup this year takes home the US Open Cup trophy as well as a nice bonus of $250,000. The runner-up takes home $60,000.

Also of note, both the Austin Aztex from PDL and Pittsburgh Riverhounds (the Dynamo USL-Pro affiliate) will be competing as well, and wouldn't it be fun if Houston had an opportunity to play either of them?