It’s that time of year again.
Since its inception in 2008, the Canadian Championship, in which teams compete to lift the Voyageurs Cup, has without fail provided some of the most entertaining and meaningful matches of the season.
The trophy itself predates the tournament. It was first awarded in 2002, but without a separate competition it was bestowed to the side that took the most points in league competition against their fellow Canadian sides. Montreal won all six of those cups and steadfastly claims them in their all-time tally.
It has grown over the years: from a three-team tournament to the 13-team pool this year who will battle to be crowned Canadian Champions.
Usually a two-legged affair, this year’s was pared to a single-knockout match with the schedule congestion and the action kicked off in mid-August with the five preliminary round matches: York United FC beat League1 Ontario side Master’s FA; Cavalry FC beat FC Edmonton; Valour FC saw out Atlético Ottawa; HFX Wanderers FC survived a scare against A.S. Blainville of the Première Ligue de soccer du Québec (PLSQ); and there was a true giant-killing as Pacific FC ousted Vancouver Whitecaps FC in a dramatic provincial derby.
One match from the quarterfinal round has already been played with Forge FC knocking Valour out of the tournament, but this Wednesday sees the other three contests: Cavalry hosting Pacific in an all-Canadian Premier League battle, while HFX welcomes CF Montreal to Wanderers Ground in Halifax and Toronto FC hosts York United at BMO Field.
Each match as tasty as the others.
The semifinal round is set for later this month, while the finals are pencilled for mid-to-late October.
Toronto FC will be looking to lift their eighth Voyageurs Cup. Former Red Jim Brennan and his York side will have something to say about that – more on that later this week – but before Javier Perez and his team step on the field, now is a good time to recount those past glories.
Having lost the initial round robin edition of the championship – Toronto took four points from the eventual champion Montreal Impact, only for results against Vancouver to be decisive – TFC lifted their first cup in the most dramatic of fashion.
It all came down to the final game when Toronto visited Montreal. TFC needed to win and win big to draw level on points with Vancouver and overcome a plus-four goal differential. With the Whitecaps in the building, set to play Montreal in USL action in the coming days, Dwayne De Rosario led the way with a hat-trick in what has come to be called the ‘Miracle in Montreal.’
Amado Guevara added a brace and Chad Barrett nabbed one as Toronto lifted their first-ever bit of silverware.
The following year lacked some of that drama, as TFC went unbeaten through all four matches – winning both against Montreal and seeing out a pair of scoreless draws against Vancouver.
The goalkeeping trio of Stefan Frei, current goalkeeping coach Jon Conway, and Milos Kocic did not allow a goal throughout. Goals from Barrett, De Rosario, and Ty Harden were all they needed to lift a second-straight trophy.
The introduction of then-NASL side FC Edmonton saw the tournament evolve into a proper two-leg knockout competition.
TFC dispatched the Eddies 4-0 in the semifinals and then, after drawing 1-1 in the first leg of the final against Vancouver, the first attempt at playing the second leg at BMO Field was abandoned due to torrential rain.
Eric Hassli had given the visitors the lead in that match, but when it was rescheduled that goal was controversially erased, as per competition guidelines. Camilo opened the scoring for the Whitecaps, but a Joao Plata penalty kick and a second goal from Mikael Yourassowsky saw TFC lift a third-straight cup.
Toronto faced Montreal in the first round, winning 2-0 in the second leg at home – with goals from Reggie Lambe and Ryan Johnson – after a scoreless result away.
A late goal in the opening leg of the final from Hassli cancelled out Johnson’s opener, setting up a dramatic second leg in Toronto where Lambe’s 83rd minute-winner saw TFC lift the trophy for the fourth year in a row.
Though much drama ensued in the 2013 (won by Montreal), 2014 (Montreal), and 2015 (Vancouver) editions, TFC would have to wait until 2016 to lift the cup again.
The 2014 edition saw the addition of a preliminary round where the two then-NASL clubs Edmonton and Ottawa Fury FC squared off before joining the MLS sides.
TFC knocked out Montreal in the 2016 semifinals, winning a goal-filled opener 4-2 at home under Greg Vanney – a game that featured braces from Jonathan Osorio and Jordan Hamilton, as well as the controversial sending off of Patrice Bernier – then saw out the round with a 0-0 on the road.
A Sebastian Giovinco goal gave TFC a 1-0 win in the first leg of the final against Vancouver at BMO Field. The Whitecaps would score twice in the second leg, but more late drama lay ahead as Will Johnston’s 95th minute blast denied the Caps a second-straight title on away goals.
Toronto lost the opening leg 2-1 to Ottawa, where Benoit Cheyrou, wearing the armband, scored TFC’s goal, but the Reds rebounded strongly back home with a 4-0 victory – an own goal, as well as strikes from Tsubasa Endoh, Mark Delgado, and Giovinco – to advance 5-2 on aggregate.
The final against Montreal hung in the balance after a 1-1 draw at Stade Saputo where Matteo Mancosu and Jozy Altidore traded goals. Ballou Tabla put Montreal in the driver’s seat come the second leg, but then Giovinco took over: scoring an equalizer in the 53rd minute and then that unforgettable 95th minute winner.
The tournament expanded further with the addition of a second qualifying round, welcoming in the champions of League1 Ontario and the PLSQ.
Toronto breezed past Ottawa once more, 4-0 on aggregate, with Osorio scoring in both legs – Ayo Akinola and Hamilton added to his contribution in the second at home.
A tense 2-2 opening leg in Vancouver, which including a 96th minute own goal from Doneil Henry, resulted in an explosive second leg where an Altidore hat-trick and goals from Giovinco and Tosaint Ricketts proved too much for Vancouver as TFC strolled to a 7-4 aggregate win.
The 2019 edition saw another qualifying round added to accommodate the then-seven CPL sides. TFC knocked out Ottawa for a third-straight year, but after trading 1-0 home wins against Montreal in the final round – Ignacio Piatti and Endoh provided the goals respectively – the tie went to penalty kicks with Montreal emerging victorious at BMO Field.
The 2020 Final between TFC and Forge has not yet been played. Due to the pandemic, the tournament itself was not played. Instead, a representative from MLS and one from the CPL would meet in a one-off final.
Toronto emerged with the most points from in-league play against their Canadian rivals when MLS resumed after the pandemic stoppage and Forge won the CPL’s Island Games. Though there is still no date, the game is to be played at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton when it is.
There has already been a ton of drama in the competition this year. No doubt more lies ahead. Wednesday will be a special night.