Toronto FC will kick off their quest for an eighth Voyageurs Cup on Tuesday night.

The Canadian Championship, the annual competition to determine who will lift that trophy and represent the nation in the Concacaf Champions League next season, began earlier this month with the preliminary round.

With the draw set, TFC were waiting to see who would emerge from the tie between Guelph United FC and HFX Wanderers FC – HFX won 2-0 at the University of Guelph’s Alumni Stadium, which meant that TFC would be heading to Halifax for the quarterfinal tie. 

Jacob Shaffelburg, Toronto’s only Nova Scotia-native, has been buzzing ever since.

“He's been excited,” said Ayo Akinola on Saturday night, following TFC’s 2-2 draw at D.C. United. “He hasn’t told us much, but he’s been really excited to go back home and play in front of his fans and his people, where he came from.”

“I know that his whole family is going to be there, for him it’s a special game,” he continued. “We're going over there to win, for him and for us as well, to move on to the next round.”

It will not be the first time TFC has faced opposition from the Canadian Premier League – they defeated both York United FC and Pacific FC in 2021 en route to the final – but it will be the first time they will travel to face a CPL opponent at their ground.

“There's an understanding that when you play these kinds of games, it's a big deal for the opponents when they get a home game in the early rounds of the cup,” said Bob Bradley. “You have to have a team that's ready for a hard game.”

The Wanderers Grounds, adjacent to downtown Halifax, seats about 6500 fans for soccer matches and is expected to be packed on Tuesday night.

“The mentality, as any other away trip, is we go to [win], knowing that it’s not going to be an easy game,” said Akinola. “Halifax is going to come ready to fight, ready to play. We expect a battle, we expect a hard-fought match.”

Toronto has played on the road in the Canadian Championship against ‘lower’ league opposition with trips to face both Ottawa Fury FC and FC Edmonton in the past. They will have another tasty away match in the competition on June 4 when they face Forge FC in the much-delayed 2020 Canadian Championship Final at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton.

And in assistant coach Paul Stalteri, who was with York United previously, Bob Bradley has a staff member very familiar with HFX and the CPL.

“He will provide the information in the scouting report,” replied Bradley. “We've already talked a bit about it. Paul's an important part of the staff every week, but when we play against CPL teams he's even more important.”

Bradley has squared off against HFX coach Stephen Hart before, famously in the semifinal of the 2007 Gold Cup when Hart was managing Canada and Bradley the USA.

“He did a very good job with that team,” recalled the TFC coach. “I've followed some of the things he's done. The couple of times I've talked to him, I've always appreciated just his down to earth way and his understanding of the game. And I know in Canadian football, he's really well-respected.”

Buckle up, the magic of the cup awaits.

All around the world, these games are special, something the well-travelled Bradley knows well.

“That all different clubs get a chance and there's a history,” he highlighted. “I've had good experiences in the US Open Cup, I had two amazing experiences in Norway, where the early rounds you play in some different places, small clubs.”

“Played one match up in the Arctic Circle, near Senja,” Bradley continued. “You see people coming out in a small stadium and it’s their chance to see a team from the top division. Look, that part of football is special. I know Halifax with their little stadium and the people there, it's going to be a big, big day. Jacob’s been talking about it for a while, so yeah, this is all part of cup football.”

Having lost last season’s CPL Golden Boot winner Joao Morelli to injury in the second game of the season, Hart has relied on the attacking trio of Akeem Garcia, Samuel Salter, and Corey Bent to provide the goals, each netting twice, while former TFC homegrown signing Aidan Daniels scored a screamer in the cup against Guelph last round.

While Toronto will face a quick turnaround, HFX have had an extra day to prepare after losing 4-0 at home to Forge on Friday – their first home defeat of the season.

Just another hurdle the schedule throws, something that doesn’t diminish the anticipation one bit.

“Definitely excited, I've never been to Halifax,” smiled Akinola. “I think it'll be a great game, great atmosphere. I’m pretty excited, but it’s a quick turnaround so get back home, recover, fly out, and play the game.”

Said Bradley: “We'll assess where we are with each guy. The Canadian Championships are an important part of the history of the club and so we take it seriously.”

“We already talked briefly after [D.C.] about how important the Canadian championship is and what it means. I don't have to tell [the players], they've done it before. Quick turnaround; we'll figure out how to have a really good team on the field and get to Halifax and be ready.”