That idiom – roughly, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” – rings true as we look at this year’s semifinals, which feature the same three teams that have battled in every edition of the tournament (Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact), plus the USL’s Ottawa Fury.
The tourney is actually due for some big changes in the next few years; before that comes, though, let’s break down where things stand in 2017.
What is it?
Since 2008, the annual Canadian Championship has served two functions:
- crowning Canada’s top club, who are awarded the Voyageurs Cup, a fan-created trophy that predates this competition
- determining Canada’s CONCACAF Champions League entrant.
Things are a bit different on the CCL front this year, which we’ll get to in a minute.
Who’s in it?
Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal have taken part in all 10 editions, later joined by NASL’s FC Edmonton (2011) and the Ottawa Fury (2013).
Since 2013, we’ve seen Edmonton and Ottawa (who jumped from NASL to USL over the winter) face off in a two-legged preliminary round to determine who’d join the three MLS teams in the semifinals.
This year, Ottawa squeaked out a 1-0 win on home turf in the first leg, then stormed into Edmonton and won 3-2, claiming a 4-2 victory on aggregate. That earned them a first-ever semifinal showdown with provincial rivals Toronto FC, while Vancouver and Montreal will renew their decades-old hostilities.
When is it?
The semifinal first legs are Tuesday, with the Whitecaps hosting the Impact and the Fury hosting TFC. The second legs are next week, at Stade Saputo on May 30 and BMO Field on May 31.
The two-legged final will be on June 20 or 21 (the 21st if Montreal is in it) and June 27. If TFC wins the whole thing, they get Canada’s spot in the 2018 CCL.
If not, they’ll host the winners in a special one-game playoff at BMO Field on Aug. 9. A year-over-year scheduling change meant TFC didn’t clinch a CCL spot by winning the 2016 Canadian Championship (but they will if they can repeat as champs).
All games will be shown in Canada on TSN and TSN GO.
What am I watching for?
Every year, young Canadians get a chance to make names for themselves in this tourney. A new Canadian player rule (each team must start three Canadians in each game) increases the odds of such breakthroughs. Here are a few players (and storylines) to keep an eye on.
Injuries are front and center, with Sebastian Giovinco and Nick Hagglund the most notable entrants in the sick bay. TFC are off to a super-hot start in MLS, but a busy month of May will put their depth to the test.
Luckily, 21-year-old wingback Raheem Edwards has stepped up big-time in his first season, while we can only wonder whether Giovinco’s absence will re-open the door for Jordan Hamilton. A brace in last year’s Canadian Championship semifinals set Hamilton up for a big year, but he has yet to feature in 2017. Could we see the two former TFC Academy teammates linking up once more?
This will be the Fury’s first meeting with the big, bad boys from Toronto, and they know what’s at stake – especially since their assistant coach, Julian de Guzman, was TFC’s first-ever Designated Player back in 2009.
The Fury boast a number of Canadian players on the fringes of the national-team scene, who’ll be aching to showcase themselves on the big stage. Watch out for goalkeeper Callum Irving (who made his CanMNT debut this year), defender Eddie Edward and defender/midfielder Jamar Dixon.
While the Impact are currently near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, that’s never stopped them from having Canadian Championship success before. In 2014, the Impact had just one win in eight league games when they entered the tournament – and went on to win the tournament, then go all the way to the 2014-15 CCL final.
While it’s 18-year-old Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla who’s been turning heads so far this year, another young midfielder could play a part in this tourney. David Choiniere, a 20-year-old battling back from an offseason injury, will be itching to establish himself in head coach Mauro Biello’s plans.
The ’Caps finally won their first Voyageurs Cup in 2015 (on their 14th try), which earned them a spot in the 2016-17 CCL. That brought 2017 in with a bang, as a quarterfinal win over the New York Red Bulls in early March put them in the semifinals, in which they’d fall to Mexican side Tigres. But with the taste of continental play still fresh in their mouths, Vancouver will be looking to win their second Voyageurs Cup.
As for young Canadians, well, Alphonso Davies. Duh. But also, we wonder whether this could be the time for the likes of 18-year-old fullback Kadin Chung, a mainstay on Whitecaps 2 for the past two years, to get a crack with the big team.
The Canadian Championship will grow to at least seven teams in 2018, to include the winners of League1 Ontario and the Première Ligue de soccer du Québec, the top semipro leagues in Canada’s two largest provinces.
The new Canadian Premier League – which could launch as early as 2018 – will also be represented in future editions of the Canadian Championship, though the nature of that involvement (and, indeed, most information about the league) is yet to be confirmed.