According to Canada Soccer:
The Canadian Championship is Canada Soccer’s highest domestic professional soccer competition and it is the sole qualification route for Canadian professional clubs into CONCACAF Champions League and onto the FIFA Club World Cup.
It’s the competition where the top teams from across the country compete to determine which side is truly the best in Canada, and which side should represent our country across North America, and potentially, the world. This should be a huge competition. It should be highly regarded, and heavily fought. As the only way for Canadian Teams to go beyond the league they play in, the Voyageur’s Cup should be the epitome of soccer in the country.
Guess what? It isn’t.
Sadly, the Canadian Championship, although once heavily fought by Ottawa Fury and the now defunct FC Edmonton, is a very small, mickey-mouse of a competition that the the American franchises located in Canada couldn’t bother sending their regular starters to attend until their final match (and even then). For a long time, this competition involved Toronto FC, Montreal Impact FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, alone.
When it grew to include the two NASL clubs, with Ottawa transferring to the USL later, there was a possibility to make it more competitive. Instead, the two 2nd-division clubs had to battle each other for the privilege of going up against the top Canadian-based MLS franchise. This year marked another opportunity to truly grow the competition, as the League1 Ontario and Premier Ligue de Soccer du Quebec champions were invited to join. Once again, the opportunity was squandered by putting the 3rd-division sides head-to-head for the privilege of playing the 2nd division side, and then those two clubs must battle to go up against fiery hot Toronto FC, the Canadian-based MLS franchise that won the treble last year (MLS season, MLS Cup, Voyageur’s Cup).
I’ve no doubt the 3rd-division match-up will be competitive. I’m also really looking forward to watching them face off against Ottawa. After that, well, unless Ottawa comes out red-hot (which their roster suggests is possible), I know a fair number of people that will be tuning out, or at least, devoting about as much attention to it as the MLS sides.
You know what really grinds my gears? There’s another 5 teams that play high-end soccer in the Premier Development League, that should probably be there. 6 if you include the winner of the Challenge Trophy. Heck, I could even be convinced to let the Pacific Coast Soccer League enter teams into the competition (if the league could straighten itself out and be the proper pro-am league they claim to be). That would create a lot of competition, right from the beginning as lower-tier teams battle their way through the competition.
For the purposes of my vision, I’ve included the Challenge Trophy winner, all 5 PDL teams, 18 L1O, 8 PLSQ, 1 USL, 3 MLS, and the starting high of 10 CPL sides. This is not in stone, it’s just one vision of many I’d love to entertain. Here’s my brief idea on how it could play out:
I’m a fan of round robins in the early stages of tournaments. Not everyone is, but I find they’re good for helping a team find their footing initially, and it provides teams a minimum number of matches against teams they may not normally face. In this case, I have 8 groups of 4 involving the Challenge Trophy winner, PDL, PLSQ, and L1O. I’ve spread it out to try to allow the most intermingling of leagues. I’ve also setup the PLSQ Champ and the L1O Champ on opposite ends, in groups where neither the winner nor runner up would face a higher division side in the next round, which optimizes their chances of causing upsets late in the tournament.
In the second round, with the exceptions of matches 7 & 8, all teams face a CPL or MLS side. That’s right, no free pass to the semi-finals. The third round introduces the CPL and MLS top-seeded Canadian team. For CPL it’s the champions of course, but I’m not going to pretend a Canadian-located MLS franchise is going to top their league every year (or even necessarily another year). These two top division-1 sides, with how I built the brackets, couldn’t possibly meet until the finals.
Broken out like this, there would likely be upsets along the way. It is definitely possibly for, say, the PLSQ Champs to go head-to-head with the CPL or MLS top-seed, either in the semi-finals or the final itself. It would be a massive push for the tournament, and would be thrilling to enjoy.
I’ll admit, this isn’t a perfect setup. It’s only one vision of what we could, potentially, see one day. Hell, those 5 PDL teams could become part of a Western-Pacific Soccer League spanning everything from Victoria through Thunder Bay (an idea worth pondering a moment or two anyways). This could, and should, be huge and ever evolving. The big clubs, whether they be Winnipeg, Halifax, or Vancouver, should visit and play in the small stadiums of Thunder Bay Chill, CS Mont-Royal Outremont, and Edmonton Scottish or Charlottesville Abbies SC (two past Challenge Trophy winners).
Think of it, the mighty TFC or Hamilton, travelling to a small stadium that seats maybe 3000 people normally, expanded with temporary seating and standing areas to maybe 5k, facing off against a little team in a mostly-rural part of the country. Think of the event that would be for locals. Think about how hard that city’s players would push themselves while facing the big guys. Think about the atmosphere and the noise that would echo around that small stadium. Think about what that would look like in person, on television, over the internet.
The possibility has me pumped. With the Canadian Premier League set to kick-off in 2019, that’s the perfect time to turn the Voyageur’s Cup into a real competition.
New teams are coming. Let’s make it epic.
In the meantime, be sure to watch the opening rounds of this year’s Voyageur’s Cup. They’ll be the hardest fought of the whole tournament. Again.