Canadian quartet locks horns | Soccer | CBC Sports

CanadaCanadian quartet locks horns

Posted: Monday, April 30, 2012 | 08:42 PM

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Montreal Impact's Lamar Neagle, left, and Toronto FC's Richard Eckersley battle for the ball during action in Montreal, Saturday, April 7, 2012. (The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes) Montreal Impact's Lamar Neagle, left, and Toronto FC's Richard Eckersley battle for the ball during action in Montreal, Saturday, April 7, 2012. (The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes)

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The Canadian Championship may just be the smallest cup competition in the world. The soccer snobs can go ahead and ridicule a national championship with so few contestants. But, like the Canadian weather, you have to live here to get it.
 


It may just be the smallest cup competition in the world. The soccer snobs can go ahead and ridicule a national championship with so few contestants. But, like the Canadian weather, you have to live here to get it.
 
True, there are only 4 competitors but don't be fooled into thinking it isn't important. Year after year the fans have supported the Canadian Championship, and if they think it's significant the clubs and their players have a duty to take it seriously.
 
The 2012 edition is wide open. All four Canadian teams have reasons and agendas for wanting to lift the Voyageurs Cup but unlike previous years picking a favourite is almost impossible. For the health of the competition itself, this is exactly how it should be.
 
Nobody wants a foregone conclusion. You can't expect the media to take an interest or the paying customers to come out in force if the competition lacks credibility. Yet in less than five years the Canadian Championship has become something soccer fans in this country genuinely look forward to every spring.
 
Partly because it is ours. This is a competition run by the Canadian Soccer Association for the benefit of Canadian clubs. Our cousins to the south have no involvement in these proceedings. It is a private party where there is no need for two anthems before every game.
 
Rivalry is an odd term in a country so vast. When your closest competitor is a five hour drive it seems nonsense to talk about bragging rights. Yet there it is - right in the middle of the contest - on and off the field, and absolutely fundamental to the longevity of the tournament.
 
The title of Canadian Champions is not to be taken lightly. This is not a time to rest your senior players and allow those on the fringes a chance to impress. Neither is it a time to blood a couple of youngsters burning for an opportunity to make their first team debuts.
 
Toronto FC has carried the torch for the past three years. At first it was a heavy crown to bear but gradually TFC has learned to represent Canada with something approaching success. It is less than a month since the fruits of their labours finally came to a painful end in northern Mexico.
 
Scars take time to heal. The crushing defeat against Santos Laguna combined with a disastrous start to the MLS season have negated much of the good work and goodwill which sustained players and fans alike late last year and over the winter months.
 
Without the Canadian Championship there would have been no fireworks at the Rogers Centre. Close on 50-thousand descended on the dome to watch TFC tackle the Galaxy's all-stars. It was a soccer event which moved the needle, capturing the flair and atmosphere of some of the world's great football arenas.
 
Toronto may have seen the last of it for a while. The defending champions face an uphill struggle to retain their title. Not only has Aron Winter's team been shell-shocked in recent weeks but for the first time it must face opponents who are equally, if not better, equipped to grab the glory for themselves.   
 
Montreal has already beaten Toronto this year. The Impact, fresh from its first ever MLS shut out and with home advantage, will be in buoyant mood of building a first leg lead. The 2008 champions were Canada's first representatives in the CONCACAF Champions League and the Impact would like nothing more than to cap their first MLS season with a return to the 'international' scene.
 
That's not the way they're thinking out west. No team is more determined to stop that happening than the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Canadian Championship has thus far eluded the Whitecaps but the circumstances have, on occasion, been a long way short of satisfactory. 'Caps fans feel, with some justification, they are due.
 
First things first for Martin Rennie's team. The Whitecaps should be too strong for FC Edmonton over two legs but their Albertan opponents will want to acquit themselves well at the very least. The Eddies' goalkeeper is no stranger to the big game - Mike Misiewicz recently distinguished himself during the Olympic qualifiers while attacking midfielder Shaun Saiko will be looking to cash in at the other end.
 
Four teams all chasing the same goal. Three of them will be bitterly disappointed. A tournament small in number but big in substance. Who says size matters?
 
 

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