Canadian Championship expands with addition of CPL clubs

Canada Soccer general secretary Peter Montopoli. Mark Blinch / THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Canada’s national soccer championship tournament will be bigger than ever when it kicks off this spring.

Canada Soccer announced Thursday the 2019 edition of the Canadian Championship will feature 13 teams from across the country vying for the Voyageurs Cup and a spot in the 2020 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, which leads to FIFA Club World Cup.

Clubs from the Canadian Premier League, League 1 Ontario, the Première ligue du Soccer de Québec (PLSQ), United Soccer League, and Major League Soccer will play in a 24-game schedule, which begins May 15 and culminates with the two-game final Sept. 18 and 25.

“I think it speaks to the growth of professional soccer in our country,” said Canada Soccer general secretariat Peter Montopoli. “As well having the Quebec and League 1 teams also shows the strength at the club level and the provincial level and all of us trying to grow the game in our country.

“It’s a natural evolution of our sport and I believe with more cities involved and more interest from every province it is only certain to grow the game exponentially.”

The competition was established in 2008 and featured the three professional teams at the time, the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps.

In 2018, six teams took part in the national tournament with the Oakville Blue Devils of League 1 Ontario and A.S. Blainville of the PLSQ added to the event.

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley lifts the Voyageurs Cup after beating Vancouver Whitecaps 5-2 to win the Canadian Championship Final, in Toronto, Aug. 15, 2018. Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS

This year, the seven founding members of the Canadian Premier League — Cavalry FC, FC Edmonton, Forge FC, HFX Wanderers FC, Pacific FC, Valour FC and York 9 FC — have been added to the competition.

“I look at this Canadian Championship as another great opportunity for our players to excel and showcase their abilities at the club level,” said CPL commissioner David Clanachan. “In this format, winning provides, what I call, a ticket to the dance, which is the biggest club competition in the world (FIFA Club World Cup).

“When you think about it, what nation has more than doubled the size of their competition? So it’s great, and as we go forward, we’re going to keep adding teams to this and this thing is going to keep getting bigger and bigger.”

Each round of the tournament will be a two-game, home and away format.

The first qualifying round will feature A.S. Blainville of the PLSQ and Vaughan Azzurri of League 1 Ontario and four CPL clubs, Pacific FC, Cavalry FC, York 9 FC and HFX Wanderers FC.

The three teams moving on from the opening round will be matched up against three other CPL clubs, FC Edmonton, Forge FC, and Valour FC.

The third qualifying found will feature the Ottawa Fury of the United Soccer League, the Impact, and Whitecaps.

As defending national champions and seven-time winners of the tournament, Toronto FC receive a bye into the semifinal round.

The Impact are three-time national champions and the Whitecaps claimed the title in 2015.

“The draw was difficult this year because we didn’t have much from a seeding point of view,” Montopoli said. “I think we did everything we could do to be fair to everybody and I think it gives everybody a fair opportunity to progress in the competition.”

Since the inception of the national championship, Canadian teams have reached at least the quarterfinal stage of the Concacaf Champions League on five occasions.

Toronto FC played in the final last year, while the Montreal Impact featured in the final in 2015. The Whitecaps reached the semifinal in 2017.

“We all watch the (English) FA Cup games on TV and watch David vs Goliath on a regular basis,” Clanachan said. “That’s what makes this competition so exciting, when you see those types of games. Some don’t end that well, but some are very surprising and that’s what you like to see.”

Having more regions across the county participate in the national championship should make this year’s tournament more appealing. The hope for Canada Soccer is to continue expanding the tournament as more professional teams are established in the country.

“I think you’re going to see it grow,” Montopoli said. “Much like competitions that are held across all the various FIFA-member competition countries, it gives everybody an opportunity across our country to cheer for someone in their own market place. It gives more opportunities for everyone to be engaged and it’s a positive for everyone.”

Email: dvandiest@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

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