Another spring, another title to play for. While the CONCACAF Champions League is already in the rearview mirror of MLS teams for this year, three MLS teams and an NASL team, all from Canada, have their sights firmly set on the Amway Canadian Championship, which will not only hand the winner a national title and the bragging rights that come with it, but entry into the CONCACAF Champions League for the 2013-14 edition.
The ACC is a relatively young competition, having only been founded in 2008, though the Voyageurs Cup trophy (above), awarded to the top team in Canadian soccer, is slightly older, having first been awarded to the Canadian side with the best record in the then-USL First Division (then the second tier of North American soccer) since 2002.
Though the competition initially started as a round-robin tournament, it has been contested as a knockout competition – essentially Canada's domestic cup – since 2011, when the NASL's FC Edmonton brought the total of Canada's professional teams to four. A team from Ottawa will join the NASL in 2014, though there is no word as of yet as to how this will affect the competition.
The competition could even grow beyond five teams in the future, as recently elected Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani stated upon taking office his interest in an expanded cup competition including semi-professional and amateur teams, though prohibitive travel costs have so far provided a roadblock to that goal.
Turning back to the past for a second, the Montreal Impact maintained a firm grasp on the Voyageurs Cup from its inception until the legendary draw vs. Toronto in the 2008 edition that secured the then-second division Impact the title at the expense of the MLS side.
Since Montreal claimed the 2008 title, though, the ACC has been all Toronto FC. Even after the Vancouver Whitecaps joined MLS in 2011, and Montreal in 2012, the Reds have maintained a stranglehold on the trophy despite some fierce pushes from the 'Caps, and a controversial incident in the 2011 when Vancouver were 2-1 up on aggregate with 30 minutes to play in the second leg of final, only for the game to be called off due to weather conditions and replayed in full, with Toronto winning.
And of course, nowadays, winning the ACC also wins you more than national bragging rights – it also provides Canada's much-coveted spot in the CONCACAF Champions League, where Canadian teams have had their fair share of success.
After their historic win in 2008 the Impact lost just one game in a four-team group containing eventual champions Atlante, and defeated Santos Laguna 2-0 at home in their quarterfinal tie before falling 5-2 in Mexico – one goal short of what would have been an upset of enormous proportions, not to mention a semifinal berth.
In the 2011-12 edition, Toronto FC did their Canadian rivals one better, emerging out of their group at the expense of FC Dallas and scoring an upset of defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy in the quarterfinals before bowing out to Santos Laguna in the semifinals.
And as Canadian sides make a marked improvement in MLS play – Vancouver became the first to qualify for the postseason in 2012 and Montreal currently sit in the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference – there should be a belief that these positive showings can translate into stronger showings and build upon earlier performances in the CCL, which adds extra importance to the Canadian Championship.
After all, wouldn't it be a huge accomplishment for Canadian soccer if one of their teams, as opposed to a US-based club, became the first MLS team to claim the CCL crown in its current incarnation?
So gear up, another edition of the Amway Canadian Championship is set to begin, and with it, another chapter in Canadian soccer history.
Fans in Canada will be able to catch all the action on Sportsnet, and you can find the tournament schedule below (home team listed first):
Semifinal, Leg 1
- April 24: Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact, 7:30 pm ET
- April 24: FC Edmonton vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 9:30 pm ET
Semifinal, Leg 2
- May 1: Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC, 7:30 pm ET
- May 1: Vancouver Whitecaps vs. FC Edmonton, 10 pm ET
- Leg 1: May 15, time TBD
- Leg 2: May 29, time TBD