No Messi and just eight MLS teams in US Open Cup after deal

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami will not participate in the US Open Cup this season with just eight Major League Soccer clubs competing in the traditional knockout competition, after a compromise deal between the league and the US Soccer Federation.

The U.S. Open Cup, which began in 1914, is the oldest tournament in the American soccer landscape and is similar to England’s FA Cup or Spain’s Copa del Rey.

MLS had initially attempted to withdraw all 26 of its US-based teams and instead be represented by reserve and affiliate clubs from the third tier MLS Next Pro.

That move came after MLS commissioner Don Garber had criticised the Cup in May, saying it was “not the proper reflection of what soccer in America at the professional level needs to be.”

Garber was critical of the lower league venues that games were held at and the broadcasts of the games but MLS has also raised objections to the finances around the competition.

The move to totally replace MLS teams with their reserve clubs was rejected by the federation in December and the prospect of MLS teams not participating in the competition was heavily criticised by many fan groups and lower division clubs as a break with tradition.

The federation and MLS have been in talks over this year’s competition for the past two months.

The competition is open to all US clubs but MLS teams have dominated the event since the league’s 1996 debut.

Messi’s Miami team reached the final last year, losing to the Houston Dynamo although the Argentine missed the game through injury.

Under the compromise deal, none of the MLS teams involved in the regional CONCACAF Champions Cup will feature in the competition apart from defending champions Houston Dynamo.

The teams involved are the top seven ranked teams not involved in the CONCACAF Champions Cup — Atlanta United, FC Dallas, Los Angeles FC, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC and Sporting Kansas City.

MLS Next Pro will be represented by 11 clubs, none of them connected to the eight MLS teams, while as usual clubs from the second and third tier United Soccer Leagues, which is independent of MLS, are also involved.

Under a new format, MLS teams will not join until the round of 32 and will not face each other until it is no longer possible to avoid match-ups with lower division clubs.

U.S. Soccer said the federation is making its “largest-ever investment in the tournament in 2024”, noting the support of new commercial partners including Marriott, Michelob Ultra, New York Life, and Nike.

“After extensive discussions, we have put together a competitive format specific to the 2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, promising exciting matchups from the First Round and through the entire tournament,” U.S. Soccer chief executive J.T. Batson said.

Nelson Rodriguez, MLS’s Executive Vice President of Sporting Product and Competition, said he was glad a format had been agreed for this year but said talks would continue on the future structure of the Cup.

“It is a valued tournament by our clubs and fans and I’m glad that U.S. Soccer has been able to format the tournament in a way that is satisfactory,” he said.



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