Preseason Countdown presented by Children's Mercy - 18 Days

Preseason Countdown presented by Children's Mercy: 18 Days until MLS is Back

UPDATE: U.S. Soccer announced on April 16 that the 2021 edition of the U.S. Open Cup will not be held this Spring. U.S. Soccer's Open Cup Committee will evaluate the possibility of conducting the competition later in the year.


As Sporting Kansas City prepares for its 26th season as a charter member of Major League Soccer, SportingKC.com is rolling out a 26-day countdown to the start of the 2021 campaign. A mouthwatering opening weekend of MLS action will see Sporting Kansas City visit the New York Red Bulls at 7 p.m. CT on April 17, giving supporters their first look at Manager Peter Vermes’ side since last December.

The 2021 Preseason Countdown, presented by Children’s Mercy, will serve as the comprehensive, go-to preview of everything that awaits Sporting Kansas City in the weeks and months to come. From key storylines and bold predictions to statistical breakdowns and players to watch, the 2021 Preseason Countdown will highlight the many reasons to be excited for what’s ahead. To visit the series homepage as it expands, visit SportingKC.com/2021countdown.


After 106 consecutive years of crowning a champion, the heralded Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup was forced into a hiatus in 2020.

The good news is that U.S. Soccer's National Championship and premier domestic cup competition will return in 2021. It'll just look a little different—perhaps "smaller" is the right word—and in order to compete in the 2021 edition, Sporting Kansas City has some work to do.

U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer announced on Monday the MLS club qualification procedure for the 2021 Open Cup. Eight U.S.-based MLS teams will qualify for the tournament based on team performance through the first three weeks of MLS regular season play, running from April 16 through May 3.

The U.S.-based MLS clubs with the highest number of regular season points per game at the conclusion of the first three weeks of MLS play will qualify for the 2021 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

So what does that mean for Sporting Kansas City? Manager Peter Vermes and Co. have always placed tremendous importance on the Open Cup, as evidenced by the tournament wins in 2012, 2015 and 2017 and Vermes' consistently strong lineup selection in the competition.

Given the fact that only eight of the 24 American MLS clubs will punch their Open Cup ticket, Sporting will essentially have to finish in the upper third of the table after Week 3 of the regular season. While it's impossible to calculate a magic number of points that would vault Sporting into the Open Cup, rudimentary math suggests that Vermes' side will need—at the very least—five points from their first three league fixtures, which are listed below.

Date Opponent Time CT (TV)
Saturday, April 17 at New York Red Bulls 7:00
Friday, April 23 ORLANDO CITY SC 6:30
Saturday, May 1 at Real Salt Lake 1:00

This three-game stretch isn't exactly murderer's row, but it's no cake walk, either. The New York Red Bulls have reached the playoffs every year since 2010, the second-longest active streak in MLS, during which time they have posted a remarkable 72.8 win percentage at Red Bull Arena. Orlando City SC are pegged as one of the Eastern Conference favorites under head coach Oscar Pareja, while Real Salt Lake have lost just one of their last eight regular season home games against Sporting.

Should Sporting successfully navigate the first three weeks of the regular season and reach the Open Cup, the months of May and June could suddenly become even more eventful. The tournament is scheduled to conclude by the end of June, with competition dates listed here.

  • May 18-19: Round of 16
  • May 25-26: Quarterfinals
  • June 15-16: Semifinals
  • June 29-30: Final

As has typically been the case since 1996, MLS clubs will face lower division competition in their initial tournament game. Participating teams will be pooled on a geographic basis into four groups of four, with each quartet consisting of two MLS teams and two lower-division sides.

The 16 participating teams in the 2021 Open Cup will be determined as follows:

  • Division I (8 slots) – Top eight USA-based Major League Soccer clubs from 2021 regular season play based on average standings points per game as of May 3 (after three weekends of action)

  • Division II (4 slots) – USL Championship 2020 semifinal playoff teams: El Paso Locomotive FC, Louisville City FC, Phoenix Rising FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies

  • Division III (2 slots) – National Independent Soccer Association 2020 Fall Champion Detroit City FC, USL League One 2020 Regular Season Champion Greenville Triumph SC

  • Open Division (2 slots) – Random draw to be conducted on April 7 to include the following:

    • One Open Division Local Qualifier drawn randomly from among 12 eligible

    • One National Premier Soccer League team drawn randomly from among 13 eligible

    • One USL League Two team drawn randomly from among 10 eligible

    • 2019 U.S. Adult Soccer Association National Amateur Cup champion Newtown Pride FC (Conn.)

As part of a four-year broadcasting deal, ESPN+ will be the home for the 2021 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and show every match from the Round of 16 to the Final. 

The 2021 U.S. Open Cup winner will earn $300,000 in prize money, a berth in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League and have its name engraved on the Dewar Challenge Trophy, one of the oldest nationally-contested trophies in American team sports and now on permanent display at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas. The runner-up will earn $100,000, while the team that advances the furthest from each lower division will take home a $25,000 cash prize, provided they advance at least one round.

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