Minneapolis City was awarded an Open Division berth ahead of qualifying for the 2017 Open Cup, then defeated Oakland County FC of Rochester Hills, Mich. 2-1 in extra time in the second qualifying round on Oct. 22, 2016.
On Dec. 14, City officially left the Premier League of America (PLA) to join the NPSL, citing travel costs and a desire to establish local rivalries as its motivation.
City was alerted to the then-potential eligibility conflict by former PLA league-mate RWB Adria of Chicago. It was City who initiated discussions with the USSF on the subject.
“The last thing we wanted to have happen was a disqualification after playing a game, or right before playing a game, especially if we had people traveling,” said Minneapolis City Chairman Dan Hoedeman. “We were proactive about it from the first.”
Section 202(c)(1)(i) of the current U.S. Open Cup policy states:
To remain eligible throughout the tournament, a team must remain a playing member in good standing within its club/league competition, starting from the Open Division entry deadline and continuing until the Open Cup Final for the competition year.
After initially being informed it was in violation of Open Cup policy, City appealed the decision. Its appeal was discussed at a recent meeting of the USSF’s Competitions Committee. Last Friday, the club was notified via phone that the appeal had been denied, but no written confirmation of disqualification has yet been received.
When asked for comment, USSF director of communications Neil Buethe responded, “If a team changes leagues during the midst of its participation in a competition year, their affiliation to U.S. Soccer through league membership is interrupted, thus causing a disqualification.”
Buethe added, “U.S. Soccer is verifying with the leagues that were named on the entry forms of the remaining 18 Open Division local qualifiers whether these teams are still participating members of those league. The leagues have been given until Feb. 9 to certify membership before U.S. Soccer declares any team no longer eligible to participate.”
As Open Division teams begin play earlier than professional sides, clubs that changed leagues prior to the Dec. 31 deadline for professional-division teams — like the Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL to USL) and Minnesota United (NASL to MLS) — did not have their eligibility affected.
“Why should amateur clubs be held back in a way the professional clubs aren’t?”
Reflecting on the Competition Committee’s decision, Hoedeman stated, “Obviously, USSF wants to ensure that teams are competing in a sanctioned league, teams aren’t materially changing throughout the tournament — going pro at a later stage — or otherwise changing to wreck the spirit of the competition. But why should amateur clubs be held back in a way the professional clubs aren’t?”
“I think it’s great that Minnesota United is going to MLS and I appreciate that Tampa Bay Rowdies went to the USL because they thought it was best for their club,” Hoedeman continued. “I want all clubs to thrive and succeed; it’s in the best interests of the game. I emphasize all. The rules should work for amateur and professional clubs.”
“We left the PLA on good terms with our bills fully paid and know that we have supportive clubs within that league. We’re all paid up and in good standing with the NPSL. Our club structure is the same, our club management is the same, our players are the same, heck, we’re even at the same level of the pyramid.” Hoedeman concluded, “Rules are rules and we are not denying that we changed leagues or that contravenes a rule in the rule book. It’s a bad rule. It did not have to be applied with such strict adherence to the letter of the law, disregarding the spirit.”
Buethe confirmed to FityFive.One that there is no proposal currently under consideration to change the Open Cup’s policy toward clubs changing leagues and the respective entry deadlines for Open Division and professional clubs.
When asked what further recourse may be available to Minneapolis City, Hoedeman replied, “I don’t think that we have any further recourse, though we are strongly considering challenging the eventual winner to a one-off playoff game to determine which team really deserves to be the only undefeated team in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup.”
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