This is usually the time of year when the proper edition of the U.S. Open Cup provides die-hard soccer fans in the U.S along with those from amateur soccer clubs to experience a knockout soccer tournament where anything is possible.
We’ve experienced various levels of the magic of the oldest ongoing soccer competition in the United States here in Pittsburgh in recent years. Whether it was following the journey of the amateur Tartan Devils Oak Avalon FC improbable appearance and first-round victory in the 2016 edition of the proper tournament, to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s meetings with MLS opponents, including the memorable overtime classic against DC United at Highmark Stadium in June 2015.
However, while soccer fans will be missing the Open Cup excitement that brings unpredictability of first and second round action plus potential upsets in the ensuing rounds, there is a pretty good alternative knockout tournament taking place.
For the first time ever, the NCAA men’s and women’s Division I tournaments are being played in the Spring, with action kicking off this week as all games will be played in North Carolina.
US OPEN CUP ON HOLD
Earlier this month, United States Soccer Federation made it official, announcing that due to continuing concerns centered around COVID-19 pandemic, the 107th Edition of the U.S. Open Cup, which was already trimmed down to 16 teams, would be put on hold with the hopes of playing it later this year.
“The logistical and financial burdens to have the tournament take place this spring in the current environment are substantial,” said Paul Marstaller, US Open Cup commissioner, in the announcement.
“Even though all of U.S. Soccer’s member professional teams will be playing in their respective league competitions this year, the Committee did not feel it wise to have clubs divert important resources during the next two months for Open Cup play. Instead, we will look further into the future to see what possibilities might exist for 2021. After that, a full-scale 2022 Open Cup is less than a year away.”
The current plan for the 2021 US Open Cup is a 16-team tournament
As reported by TheCup.US, the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) had recently sent a letter to the USSF asking that they cancel the 2021 competition due to the financial and logistical burdens that could potentially be placed on their two amateur teams by the federation’s COVID-19 safety protocols.
From a local perspective, there would not have been any teams from Western Pennsylvania in the 2021’s makeshift edition, as the Riverhounds SC didn’t make the cut for the 24-team or 16-team tournament proposals based on their finish in the 2020 USL Championship season. Local amateur clubs, Steel FC and Tartan Devils came up short in 2020 qualifying as well.
SPRING NCAA TOURNAMENTS FILL THE VOID
After the traditional Fall NCAA tournaments were cancelled, it was rescheduled to now take place from April 30 through May 17 and will be played in its entirety in Cary, North Carolina and surrounding area, due to COVID-19 protocols and concerns.
- Bryan Park (Greensboro, North Carolina).
- J. Burt Gillette Athletic Complex (Wilson, North Carolina).
- Sportsplex (Matthews, North Carolina).
- WakeMed Soccer Park (Cary, North Carolina).
In fact, they’re kicking off midweek with first round matches on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.
NCAA printable brackets are here:
Adding to the local appeal, Pitt men’s soccer team has earned the number two overall seed and Penn State men’s team also return to the tournament as an at-large selection. Meanwhile, on the women’s side, West Virginia University’s women’s team are making their 21st straight appearance, is a fifth overall seed and Penn State (who won the 2015 tournament) are also in the field again as an at-large selection.
Pitt has been the highest scoring team in the ACC, and after breaking through for its first-ever NCAA tournament win in 2019, they now have a team poised to made a deep run this Spring. The Panthers earned an at-large bid, their second in as many years. The NCAA berth is the fourth in school history and first back-to-back appearance (1962, 1965, 2019).
Pitt finished 13-3 overall and 9-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference play for the year. The Panthers went 6-2 overall and 5-1 in conference play this spring. With its 5-0 victory over Virginia April 8, Pitt clinched the ACC Coastal Division title for the first time in school history.
There are numerous local players involved too.
This week we featured Luke Peperak and Luke Mort, who’ve become key players to Pitt’s attacking unit. The Pitt men’s squad also has two additional players from the area on its roster: Anthony Harding (Norwin) and Dom Reiter (Quaker Valley). Meanwhile, for the third seed overall in the tournament, Indiana, Mort’s former high school teammate at Greensburg Central Catholic, Nate Ward, is a Hoosier.
In addition, West Virginia’s leading scorer (six goals and two assists) is Baldwin High School alum and former Beadling standout Alania Stahl and Penn-Trafford alum Mackenzie Aunkst has started all 13 matches on the back line. Also, with unbeaten South Florida’s women’s team is former Pitt and Canon-Mac standout Aideen O’Donoghue.
Both West Virginia and Pitt have first round byes and will begin play in the second round on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Here’s the early round schedule for the local / regional schools in the NCAA tournament:
Women’s First Round
Wednesday, April 28
Penn State vs Alabama State, 7 p.m.
Women’s Second Round
Saturday, May 1
West Virginia vs Rice/Furman winner, Noon (WakeMed Field, Cary)
Men’s Second Round
Sunday, May 2
Penn State vs UMass, 1 p.m. (Greensboro)
Pitt vs Bowling Green/Monmouth winner
NCAA Tournament Schedule
- First round — Women, April 27-28; Men, April 29.
- Second round — Women, April 30-May 1; Men, May 2.
- Third round — Women, May 5; Men, May 6.
- Quarterfinals — Women, May 9; Men, May 10.
The women’s national semifinals will be May 13 and the men’s May 14, while both national champions will be crowned May 17.
Pittsburgh Soccer Now plans to have coverage of every tournament game along with post-match reaction as long as the local teams remain in contention for the National Championship.
— Pitt Men's Soccer (@Pitt_MSOC) April 26, 2021
— WVU Women's Soccer (@wvuwomenssoccer) April 26, 2021