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Changes to Canadian Championship mean different stakes for CONCACAF Champions League

The Amway Canadian Championship

Photo Credit: 
USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer’s three Canadian teams now have a little something extra to play for this season.

The Canadian club that finishes with the most points in MLS this season will earn an automatic berth in the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League, thanks to changes announced by the Canadian Soccer Association on Friday.

The CSA announced that the Amway Canadian Championship will be shifting to a summer timeframe starting in 2015, as opposed to the spring timeframe it’s used since the tournament’s inception in 2008.

With the CONCACAF Gold Cup and FIFA Women’s World Cup making 2015 a very busy time in North American soccer, the Canadian Championship will be played in July and August – which would be too late for the winner to enter the subsequent CCL, as is usually the case.

So, all the involved parties have agreed that this year’s top points-getter in league play will get the country’s spot in the 2015-16 CCL. If two teams are level on points, the CCL spot goes to the team highest in the combined league table, as per MLS tiebreaking rules.

As for the 2014-15 CCL, Canada’s entrant will be decided by this year’s Canadian Championship, which kicks off April 23.

In 2016 and beyond, the tournament will be played in June and July, which would allow the winner to enter the subsequent CCL, as usual.

“Canada Soccer recognizes that the transition may be confusing in the short term,” CSA president Victor Montagliani said in a release. “But we’re confident it will benefit the competition in the longer term. This new format will allow the Amway Canadian Championship to grow, becoming even more of a Canadian showcase of professional soccer as our sport continue to evolve.”

Montagliani told MLSsoccer.com in December that expanding the Canadian Championship to more closely resemble the US Open Cup is “a must” over the long term, which could suggest this move is a first step toward greater expansion of the field.

This year’s tournament includes five teams, with NASL newcomer Ottawa Fury FC joining fellow NASL side FC Edmonton and the Montreal Impact, Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC.

The winner of the Canadian Championship is awarded the Voyageurs Cup, a trophy created and financed by members of the Canadian soccer supporters group of the same name. It has been handed out since 2002 to the nation’s top pro team, and a member of the Voyageurs is still the one to present the trophy to the team that wins the Canadian Championship.

The Montreal Impact won the Voyageurs Cup seven straight times from 2002-08 (with 2008 being the first year of the Canadian Championship tournament). Toronto FC then won four straight times from 2009-12, with the Impact reclaiming the trophy in 2013.