U.S. Open Cup: MLS to face more lower division clubs in 2020

The U.S. Soccer Federation announced a restructuring to the U.S. Open Cup, the organization's national championship that features professional and amateur teams squaring off against one another.

The changes were ratified by the U.S. Soccer Open Cup Committee last November, and is the first "major restructuring" of the competition since 2012, according to a release from U.S. Soccer.

The alterations include an expanded format that will require 11 MLS teams -- those U.S.-based teams who finished in the bottom 11 spots in the league standings -- to begin playing in the third round, one round earlier than in recent years. The MLS teams who will enter in the third round are: Chicago Fire FC, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, FC Cincinnati, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Inter Miami CF, Nashville SC, Orlando City SC, San Jose Earthquakes, and Sporting Kansas City.

The professional Division II and Division III sides -- which includes teams from the USL Championship, USL League One and NISA -- will enter in the second round.

Those clubs qualifying through the Open Division -- comprised of those entrants outside the top three professional divisions -- will start in the first round.

The impact of these changes is that the number of games between MLS sides and those in the lower divisions will increase. There will be at minimum 11 such games in the third round and as many as 16 more in the following round.

The calendar is expanding as well, with the first round of the Open Cup beginning on March 24-25, the earliest start in the modern era which is judged to have begun in 1995. This will allow for longer breaks between rounds, with a minimum of two weeks between matches.

The winner of the 2020 U.S. Open Cup, the 107th year that the competition will have been held, will receive $300,000 in prize money and a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League. 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.