The Montreal Impact will have their hands full with the Vancouver Whitecaps in the semifinals of the Nutrilite Championship. (Canadian Press)
Because we can, let's remove some hurdles. When Real Madrid faces Real Salt Lake at FIFA's Club World Cup in December it will all have been worthwhile. Major League Soccer will finally have come of age.
MLS will have earned the right to mingle with the big boys. Commissioner Don Garber will be swapping stories with Michel Platini in the VIP area. Sixteen years after its launch, American club soccer will go head to head with world football in a meaningful contest.
You might not care for Real Salt Lake. You might think the Club World Cup is a waste of time and an unnecessary intrusion into an already crowded schedule. But it's important we all appreciate the significance of this MLS breakthrough.
This is not about who wins in Yokohama. This is about global respect and credibility. Too many people in too many places continue to sneer at North America's premier product. Here is an opportunity to show the world it is making progress.
The road to Japan has to start somewhere. It's about to commence in a couple of Canadian cites. Bigger and better
Montreal and Edmonton are gearing up to stage the opening shots of the 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship. It's bigger, it's different and it's more interesting than ever before. This is not an intrusion - it's a little bit of Canadian soccer history.
Four provinces are now part of the conversation. It's not enough, but it's a start and it's growing. In a sporting landscape dominated by American franchises, this is a tournament to call our own. It is a competition to be nurtured and developed by players and fans alike.
If the paying customer takes it seriously, so do the teams involved. The Canadian Championship, unlike its southern neighbour, the U.S. Open Cup, has been embraced from the get go. For the future well being of the competition, it is critical that support continues.
The inclusion of FC Edmonton adds to the spice. It is a city which has always had time for soccer. This is a team which needs to make an impact on its community. The easiest way to achieve that goal is to force the local media to sit up and take notice.
But does Edmonton's debut detract from the quality of the tournament? Absolutely not. Cup soccer should always feature the element of surprise. Whatever you think you know, there should always be a grain of uncertainty in your pre-match logic.
Toronto FC, by contrast, is on a hiding to nothing. The Voyageurs Cup holders begin their defence at Commonwealth Stadium where anything less than a win would raise more than a few eyebrows. TFC will host the decider and should advance.
Toronto is the senior side and, man for man, has better players. By the same token, it is still finding its feet under new management. It will be doing so for the foreseeable future but this is a big opportunity to rebuild bridges with some of the disillusioned faithful.
Montreal is now where Vancouver was last year. For the Impact, Christmas cannot come quickly enough. The only gift under the tree will arrive three months late. In March 2012, Montreal will finally get to unwrap MLS in Quebec.
In the interim the Impact must build towards the big day and prepare for the step up purposefully and professionally. Montreal's two-legged semifinal against the Whitecaps will be, simultaneously, a glimpse into the future and a reminder of the past.Whitecaps the favourites?
The Whitecaps have done everything except win the Canadian Championship. Their misfortune, combined with the advent of FC Edmonton, have prompted the Canadian Soccer Association to adopt a new look, knock-out formula.
Perhaps it will be Vancouver's year. The Caps, well equipped and well supported, will certainly take the favourite tag into their semifinal against Montreal. The presence of players like Eric Hassli, Davide Chiumiento and Camilo will prove a real handful, especially at Empire Field.
One more point to consider. It is important whichever team ultimately comes out on top, it goes onto represent Canada with a strong performance in the CONCACAF Champions League. Montreal did so three years ago and this country needs more of the same.
The CSA needs all the ammunition it can get to lobby for direct qualification into the group stages and ultimately a second team in the Champions League. It can only do that if Canadian teams make a powerful statement year after year.
Real Salt Lake operates under the same rules as all other MLS franchises. But in the space of three years, since first making the playoffs, it has flourished into a formidable, respected outfit. It can be done. Club Canada - may the journey be happy and glorious.
Follow Nigel Reed on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/Nigel_Reed
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