Update to the original article below: On December 20, 2023, U.S. Soccer denied the request for MLS Next Pro teams to represent the U.S. in the Open Cup.
“After thoughtful consideration, we have informed MLS that the U.S. Soccer staff recommendation, which was adopted by the Pro League Taskforce, is that the request be denied. As we move forward, we will continue our review of the Open Cup to ensure it aligns with the U.S. Soccer strategic pillars. We remain committed to addressing the needs and concerns of all of our members, including MLS, and other stakeholders to enhance and improve the U.S. Open Cup,” – U.S. Soccer
Major League Soccer (MLS) has recently announced that its MLS Next Pro clubs will represent the organization in the 2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The decision was made at the recent MLS Board of Governors meeting where clubs voted in favor of the move. The MLS will coordinate with U.S. Soccer regarding participation in the tournament.
The move is a significant one for the MLS as it marks a departure from the traditional format of the U.S. Open Cup, which has historically included teams from all levels of soccer in the United States. The tournament has traditionally been an opportunity for amateur and lower-level professional teams to compete against top-tier clubs, and the inclusion of Next Pro clubs marks a shift in the competition’s format. It is expected that the move will help increase the visibility of MLS Next Pro teams and provide them with additional opportunities to compete against top-level talent.
The decision to include MLS Next Pro clubs in the U.S. Open Cup is also expected to have a positive impact on the development of young players in the United States. The Next Pro system was launched in 2022 to provide a pathway for young players to develop their skills and eventually progress to the MLS. Young players (who might not be as known) will have the opportunity to play against more experienced professionals, which is likely to accelerate their development.
Impact on U.S. Open Cup Structure
The U.S. Open Cup is the oldest soccer tournament in the United States, and it features teams from all levels of soccer in the country. The tournament is open to all teams affiliated with the United States Soccer Federation (USSF).
Traditionally, the U.S. Open Cup has included teams from the MLS, USL, NASL, PDL, and NPSL. However, with the MLS teams sending their Next Pro clubs, the structure of the tournament is expected to change. The number of teams in the tournament is likely to increase, and the format of the tournament may change to accommodate the new teams.
I think the decision is a significant step forward for the league and soccer in the United States. At the end of the day, it provides young players with an opportunity to play in a national tournament and gain valuable experience against teams from different levels of soccer.
Additionally, it will help to strengthen the relationship between MLS and the USSF and promote the growth of soccer in the United States. Something that hasn’t been a priority in the past.