Tuesday, May 27, 2008

TFC Notebook: Minor league trappings

After a 15-day lay-off, TFC finds itself in the middle of an insane four games in 11 day stretch. Only three of those games are against MLS opposition as the CONCACAF Champions League Canadian qualifying tournament starts tonight in Montreal. For those unaware, the tournament involves TFC, the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The latter two teams play in the USL-1, North America’s second division.

It’s an historic event. For years, Canadian fans have longed to see a national club champion crowned. And, although the current set-up is far from perfect—only the three teams currently involved will be permitted to enter the competition in its first three years—it’s a start. Go back just four years ago to 2004. The Edmonton Aviators were in administration and destined to be folded after just one year in what was then known as the A-league (now – USL-1). Further south, the Calgary Storm were playing in front of less than 700 fans a game in what was to be that doomed team’s final year as well. The Toronto Lynx were still trying to find a home stadium and, aside from about 100 U-Sector originals, were unloved and ignored in Canada’s biggest city. Ask a Canadian soccer fan in 2004 whether there would be a legitimate Canadian club championship, with the winner moving on to play for a North American title and, possibly, at the World Club Championships, and that fan would rightly assume that you were insane.

But, yet here we are on the eve of that competition. It should be TFC’s to lose, but the USL teams will not roll over. You know that this will be the highlight of the year for players like Adam Braz, who was cut by TFC, and the Impact fans will desperately want to believe that their team is as good as any in MLS.

It isn’t. One only has to look at the evidence of the US Open Cup to see how well USL teams do against MLS sides. Sure, there are upsets from time to time, but on the whole, quality usually wins out. Since MLS teams began to play for the Open Cup, the USL has only won three games against MLS teams in the semi-finals or later (about when MLS teams start to play their full rosters). All three wins were by the same team, the Rochester Rhinos, and occurred more than eight years ago.

The format of the Canadian qualifying tournament works against upsets. In a single knockout cup competition a Barnsley will occasionally rise up to kill a giant. But, in a round-robin there is an opportunity for the higher level side to recover from a bad game. It’s likely too much to suspect that Toronto will run the table in the tournament, but anything less than three wins in its four games will be a major upset.

Regardless, it’s a big day for Canadian soccer and it should be celebrated as such.

  • Although TFC’s six-game undefeated streak was snapped Saturday in Washington, the Reds remain ahead of where they were expected to be at the start of the season. With a win against Beckham-less LA Saturday, Toronto will sit with 17-points. They only had 25 all last year.
  • With International call-ups causing havoc, the next few weeks will be key to the season. TFC did receive some good news on that front this week, when the CSA agreed to allow Jimmy Brennan to stay with the club to play Saturday against LA. Brennan will then go to Panama to play with Canada in its last pre-World Cup Qualifying friendly.
  • Speaking of Canada…BRAZIL! You do realize that the Canucks are on a two-game undefeated streak against the South Americans, right?
  • If it's Tuesday, it must mean that you can read my drivel at Soccer by Ives and listen to me ramble on Champions Soccer Radio Network's Around the League in 90 Minutes.


Andrew Bucholtz said...

I doubt the Open Cup will be a walkover for TFC. They barely squeaked out a 1-0 win (although they were the better team) against the 10-man Montreal Impact tonight, and Montreal's near the bottom of the league (2-4-1). Vancouver (4-2-1) should pose quite an interesting challenge for them. Toronto's stronger and deeper on paper, but the Whitecaps have a habit of doing very well against high-quality teams (see Sunderland, Cardiff, etc). Don't count them out yet.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Er, meant the "Nutrilite Canadian Championship", not the Open Cup, which as you pointed out is the American version.

Duane Rollins said...


It's possible that one of the USL teams will upset TFC in a single game in this. But, to win enough to capture the entire tournament? That's far less likely.

Rememver, Toronto has only allowed one goal at home against MLS competition this year. I fail to see evidence that a USL team will fair better. It will be a major upset if either USL team takes points at BMO.

There was plenty of evidence that Toronto was the better team tonight (although Montreal did play well and most certainly represented the USL well). TFC probably should have had four goals with the amount of possession it had in the second half. As it was, they got enough and they took three road points.

Duane Rollins said...

*fare better too. I's a riter.

One last point...one mistake USL fans make is to compare friendly results with competitive fixtures. I'm pretty sure Sunderland and Cardiff would fare better if the games had meant something.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Fair enough: I didn't get the chance to watch tonight's match. The recap I read sounded more even, but I'll defer to you on that. For sure, friendlies are just that, but teams don't just roll over and play dead for them: you always want to try and put in a good performance to impress the manager. I agree that the tournament structure likely favours TFC, and they definitely are the better team as I admitted: I'm just not writing off the Whitecaps yet.

In any case, it will be fun watching my two favourite North American teams take each other on: I'm hoping to grab tickets for Vancouver's home games against Montreal and Toronto. This is a cool new competition, and it should be fun to watch. I'm very disappointed that Canada only gets one berth in the tournament, though, and a preliminary one at that (on par with Belize and Nicaragua, behind Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama). Perhaps that's only fair, with only three clubs vying for the berth, but I'd put Vancouver or Montreal up against any club from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras or Panama. It would have been nice to see on opportunity for the second-place team in the Canadian competition to play the second-place finisher from one of those countries for a berth.