Canadian championship offers exciting battles | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerCanadian championship offers exciting battles

Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 | 12:01 AM

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Respective coaches Marco Schallibaum of the Montreal Impact, left, and TFC’s Ryan Nelsen, right, will experience their first Canadian championship game Wednesday night at BMO Field (7:30 p.m. ET). Respective coaches Marco Schallibaum of the Montreal Impact, left, and TFC’s Ryan Nelsen, right, will experience their first Canadian championship game Wednesday night at BMO Field (7:30 p.m. ET).

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Like the return of spring, the Amway Canadian Championship is becoming an annual staple, and soccer fans across the country are ready to renew the rivalry.
It is a private, intimate party.

The guest list is short and exclusive. In the fullness of time it will get longer as it must - widening its welcome to embrace others. For time being, however, it is a select quartet.

This is Canada's competition. No Americans, no Mexicans, no Hondurans, though they will lie in wait further down the road. Like the return of spring, the Amway Canadian Championship is becoming an annual staple, and soccer fans across the country are ready to renew the rivalry.

The Voyageurs Cup was a gift from the fans. It is important they are acknowledged for their devotion to and long time support of Canadian soccer. It is a piece of silverware that predates Major League Soccer's Northern expansion, and represents both the history and progress of the sport in Canada.

Winning is no longer the end game. The Canadian champions have a pathway to international competition as part of the CONCACAF Champions League. The Montreal Impact and Toronto FC - the only two winners of the Voyageurs Cup - have both experienced the joy and despair which comes with the territory.

Memorable moments

Few will forget those remarkable moments. On a winter's night early in 2009 I could barely hear myself think as Montrealers filled the Olympic Stadium to the rafters. Long before MLS came to Quebec, that victory over Mexican giants Santos Laguna endures as one of the teams' finest hours.

Toronto FC went one step further. Three years later, close to 50,000 packed the Rogers Centre for a game of soccer. Not an exhibition between Real Madrid and Juventus - but a real match between two MLS franchises. For success starved Torontonians, it was an all too brief moment in the spotlight.

These rare nights of soccer passion are the real prizes on offer. It is what we live for as fans of the game and the stage on which players crave to perform at their best. The opportunity comes only once a year and the competitors must be on their game.

In 2013 the landscape has changed. Toronto FC - champions of Canada for the last four years - is under new management. Again. It is true the Reds have a knack of raising their game against Canadian rivals but, in theory, at least Ryan Nelsen's team is the third seed before a ball is kicked.

The hard way

In other words, if TFC is going to win the Voyageurs Cup for the fifth time, it is going to have to do so the hard way. In the semifinals, Montreal will have home advantage for the deciding second leg and will know exactly what's required. The onus is therefore with Toronto to attack in the opener Wednesday night at BMO Field (7:30 p.m. ET), and build a lead to take to the Stade Saputo - a stadium in which the Impact remains unbeaten this year.

Just how much importance Montreal coach Marco Schallibaum attaches to the competition remains to be seen. New to the North American scene, it would not be a surprise if he were to rest several senior players at the start of a busy schedule. After all, Schallibaum was hired to get Montreal into the MLS playoffs and his primary focus will surely be on collecting league points in his first season.

In its present format the Canadian Championship has yet to witness a true Cup upset. There have been several contentious moments along the way (the infamous Miracle in Montreal for example) but none of the senior teams have slipped on the knockout banana skin.

Whitecaps should handle FC Edmonton

The Vancouver Whitecaps will be perfectly happy for that trend to continue. For the second year running, Martin Rennie's team is tasked with taking care of the underdog. In four attempts FC Edmonton has never won a Canadian Championship tie and lost home and away to the Whitecaps by a 5-1 aggregate in 2012.

Game 1 is set for Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium Wednesday night (9:30 p.m. ET). In all likelihood the Whitecaps will prevail once again. The Eddies will do their best to keep Vancouver honest but over two legs, superior quality should carry the day. Nothing would give Edmonton's new coach Colin Miller more pleasure than to give the Whitecaps a scare.

Vancouver, following its disastrous expansion season in MLS, released the former Canadian international from his coaching duties.

So what's the price of a Montreal versus Vancouver Canadian Championship final? It is probably the most likely scenario but we're forgetting something. This is Cup soccer, where unpredictability is the only certainty.

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