Thursday, June 2, 2011

U.S. Open Cup Qualifying

This week, the U.S. Open Cup announced its first and second round pairings. Not every American team qualifies for the Cup, and each league uses its own system to determine who gets in.
(For more on the various leagues, here's FRB's analysis of the American soccer pyramid from earlier in the year.)

The top league, M.L.S., has 16 American clubs, and six qualify automatically based on their league finish last season. The other 10 are drawn into two five-team knockout tournaments (with six teams getting byes), and the winner of each advances to the Cup; this year it was Chicago and Kansas City. As in all rounds of the Cup, the home teams were drawn randomly.

The second level of the pyramid is the new N.A.S.L., which has only five American teams; it ended up not entering the Cup this year after failing to get organized quickly enough.

Next up is USL Pro, with 11 American teams. They have the easiest route to the tournament; they all get in!

The P.D.L. occupies the fourth rung. There are nine divisions, with five to nine teams in each. Every division gets one Cup entrant. In this year's format, four early-season games for each team were designated as Cup qualifiers. The team with the best record in those four games got the berth. If two teams tied -- and it was possible for two teams to tie with 4-0 records -- head-to-head record was the first tiebreaker. The next was goal difference, but with a twist. No team could amass more than +3 or -3 goals in a single game. The final tie breaker was goals scored, with a 3 goal per game maximum.
In one division, the Northwest, these maximums came into play. Portland and Kitsap each had 3-0-1 records, having drawn their game against each other. Portland's goal difference was better, +10 to +9, but after enforcing the +3 goals limit, both teams were tied at +7. Both teams scored 10 goals, and factoring in the 3-goal limit they each scored 7.
By rule, the teams had to be separated by coin toss. But they agreed instead to an extra one-off game to determine the Cup entrant, which will be played later this week.
Those two teams have been dominant in Northwest Division's Cup qualifying over the years, by the way. Both were 4-0 last year, with Kitsap winning on goal difference. Kitsap took the 2009 spot by a single point over Portland.

Next is the National Premier Soccer League, which gets four entrants. Each of the four divisions selected its team slightly differently: The Northeast had a three-team knockout, the Southeast had a six-team knockout at a single site, the West gave its spot to the team in first place in the league after seven games, and the Midwest gave its berth to Madison, the previous year's champion. 

At the bottom of the pyramid is the U.S.A.S.A, which has hundreds of teams nationwide under its umbrella. Each state produces a state champion, and these were drawn into four regional knockout tournaments. Two survivors from each became the association's eight teams in the Cup.

In the Cup proper, to begin June 14, the 32 non-M.L.S. teams play two rounds to reduce their numbers to eight. At this point each of the eight M.L.S is drawn against one of the survivors. The knockout tournament continues, with home teams drawn randomly, until the final, which is held at a site determined by the organizers. 

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