Soccer's Canadian Championship still has bite | Soccer | CBC Sports

MLSSoccer's Canadian Championship still has bite

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | 03:19 PM

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The Impact's Justin Mapp, left, and the Whitecaps' Gershon Koffie helped their teams battle to a scoreless draw in the first leg of the Canadian Championship final on May 15 in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press) The Impact's Justin Mapp, left, and the Whitecaps' Gershon Koffie helped their teams battle to a scoreless draw in the first leg of the Canadian Championship final on May 15 in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

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With the Canadian Championship set to be determined Wednesday night in Vancouver, here's a reminder about why this event matters to the sport's importance in this country.
In the best-selling newspaper in this country, soccer's Canadian Championship was recently declared "the most pointless sports competition on the continent."

Cathal Kelly, writing for the Toronto Star, would go further:

"It's worse than pointless, really. The Amway Canadian Championship is a performance vampire, draining teams of their resources as they chase a pair of prizes. The first (The Voyageurs Cup) doesn't matter. The second (The CONCACAF Championship) is unwinnable."

Kelly is one of the best sports writers in Canada. He's also one of the few that seem to share a genuine love for footy. His column inches matter when it comes to growing the game here.

And so, with the Canadian Championship set to be determined Wednesday night in Vancouver when the Whitecaps host the Montreal Impact in the second leg of the final, here's a reminder about why this event has teeth -- and they don't belong to a vampire.

The Voyageurs Cup

The Stanley Cup was first awarded in 1893. The inaugral winner of the Grey Cup dates back to 1909. Every legitimate national sport needs its own trophy. When it was first awarded, back in 2002, the Voyageurs Cup was given to the Canadian team (Montreal Impact) with the best head-to-head record against other teams in the USL First Division.

How times have changed. Now three of the teams involved are members of Major League Soccer. Starting in 2014, the Ottawa Fury will join fellow NASL side FC Edmonton in the tourney. The competition is getting bigger and better each year. Cathal Kelly likened the lack of teams to a "backyard pillowfighting competition" between he and his neighbour. Five teams competing over a month-long tournament works for me, just as the CFL does with its eight teams competing over five months.

CONCACAF Champions League

The winner of the Canadian Championship gets a chance to take on the best teams from CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football). Both Montreal (in 2008) and Toronto FC (in 2012) have played with great success in the tournament. The Impact made it to the quarter-finals, losing to Mexico's Santos Laguna in front of more than 50,000 fans at Olympic Stadium. TFC got as far as the semis. On the way there, Toronto eliminated David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy in front of  48,000 at Rogers Centre. Canadian teams are getting closer and Canadian soccer fans turn out in huge numbers when they do.

FIFA Club World Cup

The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League represents the region against the best teams from FIFA's other continental competitions, be it the Asian AFC Champions League, African CAF Champions League,  South American Copa Libertadores, Oceanian OFC Champions League or European UEFA Champions League. Past winners have included famous clubs like Brazil's Corinthians and Europe's Manchester United and Barcelona.

Imagine a final one day pitting the Whitecaps, Impact or TFC against one of these sides with a worldwide television audience.

FIFA World Cup

The best part of the Canadian Soccer Championship, however, is that it prepares Canadian players for the biggest event of them all: the World Cup. When Canada was eliminated from the latest World Cup by Honduras, losing 8-1 in a qualifier in San Pedro Sula, it underscored how ill-prepared the Canadians were to play in hostile venues in Central America.

Whether it was the music being blared from loudspeakers outside the Canadian hotel the night before the match, or the threat of bags of urine being tossed at Canadian players taking corner kicks in the stadium, the visitors were completely overwhelmed by the occasion.

The only way to overcome that kind of intimidation is to get used to it. Winning the Canadian Championship and then playing meaningful games in the CONCACAF Champions League in Mexico and Central America is the surest way to accomplish that.

So, whether it's Russell Teibert from Niagara Falls, Ont., for the Whitecaps, or Repetigny, Que., native Karl Ouimette for the Impact who leads his team to victory Wednesday night, be pleased if you are a fan of Canadian soccer.

We have a domestic tournament that's here to stay. A tournament that will eventually help spawn a Canadian team in the biggest tournament of them all. No need to wear necklaces of garlic on route.

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