By FRANCO PANIZO
The 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup will much different than any of its predecessors.
U.S. Soccer announced a number of changes for the 99th edition of the tournament. Those changes include a 64-team field (the largest in the modern era), a random selection process for determining home teams from the opening round until the quarterfinals, and the inclusion of all professional teams from the top three divisions, meaning the MLS qualifying bracket is no more.
The Division 1 field will include all 16 U.S.-based MLS clubs, while all six U.S.-based NASL teams and all 10 U.S.-based USL Pro sides are also included. This marks the first time that NASL clubs will participate in America's oldest national soccer tournament.
The other 32 entries will come from amateur clubs from various leagues affiliated with the U.S. Adult Soccer Association and U.S. Club Soccer.
The first round of the single-elimination tournament begins on May 15 and will ultimately be decided on Aug. 7 or 8. All games are scheduled to be played on Tuesday, except for the final which could be played on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
The Seattle Sounders are currently the three-time defending champions. Should they win again, they would become the first club in the history of the tournament to win four consecutive.
The winner of the tournament gets a $100,000 cash prize, while the runner-up will earn $50,000. The top teams from Division 2 (NASL), Division 3 (USL Pro) and the amateur level will each receive $10,000.
Here is the slated schedule for this year's U.S. Open Cup:
April 29: Qualifying deadline
May 15: First Round
May 22: Second Round
May 29: Third Round
June 5: Fourth Round
June 26: Quarterfinals
July 10: Semifinals
Aug. 7 or 8: Final
What do you think of the changes? Like them? Prefer last year's set-up?
Share your thoughts below.