TORONTO – Buckle up, it’s going to be fun.
For Canadian soccer fans, the the Canadian Championship is one of the highlights of the calendar. This year’s edition, the 12th, was particularly momentous with the new Canadian Premier League expanding the pool.
After four rounds of action, the two left standing are Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact, old foes, set to meet once more in a two-legged clash that gets underway at Stade Saputo on Wednesday night (7:30 pm ET | OneSoccer.ca). The second leg at BMO Field is a week later, resulting in a Concacaf Champions League-bound team for 2020.
“These are fun games, for sure,” smiled Michael Bradley after TFC training on Tuesday morning. “These Toronto-Montreal games, they’re special.”
“There’s something in the air when these two teams walk out onto the field,” Bradley continued. “It’s not made up, it’s not commercialized. There’s no need to play it up because it’s reality, it’s there. And so we’ve always enjoyed these games.”
Toronto will be aiming for a fourth straight title and eighth overall, while Montreal go in search of their fourth. The Impact count the six cups they lifted before the competition proper began in 2008, considering this year’s a potential 10th.
The clubs are no strangers to big games in this competition or the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
“We’ve had some incredible games, incredible series with them,” Bradley said. “The contrast in the cities, the clubs, the colors, the philosophies in some way, it makes for interesting, entertaining games. We have big respect for them. I like to think they have big respect for us. When you step on the field, these are big games.”
South of the border is the U.S. Open Cup, which is historic, longer, contains more teams and has a single-elimination format. But for TFC Greg Vanney, who lifted that cup in 2001 with the LA Galaxy, the Canadian Championship just feels different.
“It’s not fully embraced as a big tournament in the US yet, but when this tournament gets to the final, it’s really a championship,” Vanney said. “That’s something exciting about the Canadian Championship that, for me, doesn’t exist yet for the Open Cup.”
Vanney knows a little something about lifting the Voyageurs Cup.
The 2016 edition was his first trophy at the club and proved a catalyst for what was to come: a pair of Eastern Conference Championships, an MLS Cup, and nearly a Concacaf Champions League.
“I don’t know what we win after it, if we don’t win that,” said Vanney of that title snatched from Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s grasp. “Winning a championship and feeling what that’s about – whether it’s the Canadian Championship, MLS Cup – anything that is a championship, that you have to endure and win, there is a feeling and emotion that comes with that that makes you want more."
Having delivered a body blow to Montreal’s season Aug. 24 with a 2-1 home win, Toronto will be eager to sound the death knell.
“It doesn’t take much to look at the standings and realize if you’re below the playoff line right now, your margin for error is not much,” observed Bradley. “These two games, a Canadian Championship, Champions League berth, everything that comes with it, the pride. If you can win a championship like this having beat your big rival in the final, it counts for a lot. We expect them to come with everything and we will do no differently."