This Wednesday BMO Field will host the opening match in the second ever Nutrilite Canadian Championship between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC. They are vying for the Voyageurs Cup, the title of Canadian Champions and a spot in the 2009-2010 CONCACAF Champions League. Now this Cup competition is a short one consisting of only six games between Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, but it represents one of the most important advances in Canadian soccer.
The Voyageurs Cup (sponsored by the Canadian Soccer Supporters, The Voyageurs) used to be awarded to the winner of the season series between Canadian teams in the USL. During this era the Montreal Impact won the cup all six years that it was awarded. At this time the Voyageurs Cup was something the real supporters of these clubs talked about but it hadn't really gotten out to the media what this trophy was all about. In its new format it has, and it is a hit among the fans.
In the new format three teams from different leagues play in games that are scheduled out side of their respective leagues (the Voyageurs Cup games are no longer USL games) and vie for the title of Canadian Champion instead of just recognition from one supporters group. Not only has this heated up the rivalries between the three Canadian clubs, but it has also got people thinking about possible future ramifications.
Being Canadian Champions is a big deal for these teams, just look at the Impact last year. Many Impact supporters put winning the Voyageurs Cup above winning the USL title several years earlier. The idea of being a Canadian Champion means something to these cities and these supporters. Which paves the idea of a possible Canadian league.
The issue of whether or not Canadian teams should just stay in leagues like the MLS and USL or form their own league is a controversial one in Canadian soccer circles. Many believe that playing our American counterparts keeps Canada part of the North American scene and helps develop our at a higher level since the quality of opposition is greater. It also gives a more financially sound base as it has been proven that Canadian Soccer Leagues (or Canadian sports leagues in general) aren't always set for success.
There was a very poor attempt made at a Canadian league in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The CSL (Canadian Soccer League) as it was called was made in order to develop more and stronger players after Canada qualified for the World Cup in 1986. The structure and interest just wasn't there and the league folded.
Right now the Voyageurs Cup is proof that the interest is there. Fans of the national team see a national league as an avenue to grow more players and at a higher level. Fans of individual clubs see it as a chance to get another dig at their local rivals. If it worked I believe that a new Canadian Soccer League would help grow the game in this country.
Even if this league may not ever come to fruition the mere fact that the Voyageurs Cup hints to the possibility of this league is a big plus. Don Garber, the MLS commissioner, has said many times before that he wants further expansion into Canada. With the success of Toronto FC and the projected success of Vancouver it would be a massive financial incentive to explore the option of more Canadian teams. The Voyageurs Cup and the threat of a national league may help speed this process up.
Garber doesn't want to lose his Canadian market to a break off Canadian league so the Voyageurs Cup may give him the incentive to bring as many Canadian teams into the league as soon as he can. With Vancouver coming in 2011, Ottawa and Montreal still showing interest as well as recent talk of an Edmonton bid, the prospective of a Canadian league grows bigger while Garber will try harder to accommodate these teams into the MLS.
So whether it leads to more Canadian teams in the MLS, a Canadian League or something completely different, enjoy the Voyageurs Cup this year it could mean big things for the future of Canadian soccer.
[Cross-posted to The Canadian Stretford End]