The New York Cosmos, Miami FC and Jacksonville Armada will be allowed to field teams in the U.S. Open Cup this year after the U.S. Soccer Federation changed course on Friday.
The decision was taken by the USSF's Open Cup Committee, and the three teams will have until Monday, April 2, at 4 p.m. ET to confirm their participation.
The clubs are still members of the North American Soccer League, but the NASL is currently on hiatus having canceled the 2018 season after its application for a Division II sanction was rejected by the USSF last September. A subsequent legal attempt to regain that status in the courts was also unsuccessful.
As a result, the three clubs in question are fielding teams in the NPSL this season. A Cosmos "B" team and the Armada's under-23 team both played in the NPSL last year -- though neither participated in the Open Cup -- while this will be the first season in the league for "Miami FC 2."
The USSF statement following the decision read: "The Committee carefully considered the teams' exceptional situation which involved all three moving from Professional Division II status in 2017 to solely Open Division league participation earlier this year. Since the move occurred after the Open Division league's 2018 Open Cup entry deadline in mid-2017, the Committee decided to allow the three teams the opportunity to compete in the 2018 edition of the U.S. Open Cup."
Should the three teams join the Open Cup, which seems likely, they will enter the tournament via a play-in round. The winners of these games will advance to the first round of the cup, to be held on May 9 as scheduled.
"Frankly it's a win for soccer, it's a win for the fans, and it's a win for those clubs that have had a presence in the U.S.," Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso told ESPN FC.
On March 13, the USSF informed the three teams that they wouldn't be able to participate in the U.S. Open Cup because NPSL teams qualify for the tournament based on the previous year's finish. Neither Cosmos B nor Jacksonsonville's second team finished high enough. Miami didn't participate in the NPSL during that season, so there was no way for it to qualify.
"It was totally unfair, and inconsistent with the principles of open soccer," said Commisso. "And we fought [the decision], it's as simple as that, and it's something they're going to get used to."
The NASL has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the USSF and MLS contending that the Professional League Standards that the federation drew up were implemented in a manner that was intended to drive the NASL out of business. The NASL has also filed another lawsuit in the New York State Court against nearly every member of the USSF Board of Directors. That suit alleges that the directors named breached their fiduciary duty.
Miami FC and NPSL club Kingston Stockade FC also have a case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport to have promotion and relegation implemented in the U.S.
With the regard to the USOC, the three clubs in question filed an appeal to the USSF's Open Cup Committee, citing among other things the fact that former NASL sides Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC were allowed to participate in the tournament despite moving to the USL this season.
The clubs also pointed out that new teams such as LAFC of MLS and Nashville SC, Fresno FC and Las Vegas Lights FC of the USL were also allowed to enter the tournament.
"It wasn't my job to tell the [committee] how to fix this, but it was my job to tell them that what you've done is bad, wrong, and unfair to a system of open soccer in this country," Commisso said.
"My biggest problem isn't that the USSF should have a role [in the Open Cup], but whatever role it has should be an independent role. They cannot put themselves where they help one league versus another, where they decide who the winners are or not."
The arguments contained in the appeal proved compelling enough for the Open Cup Committee to vote unanimously to allow the three clubs to participate in the tournament.
Their opponents in the play-in round will be one team drawn from the NPSL and two from the Premier Development League (PDL) who have already qualified for the competition and are in close geographical proximity to the three invited teams. After identifying the list of possible opponents meeting these criteria, the exact opponents will be selected by random draw in cases where multiple options exist.
The opponents of the three invited teams will be given first option to host their play-in game, with U.S. Soccer covering reasonable and standard venue license fees and referee expenses for this round only should the already-qualified teams elect to host.