Friday, July 04, 2008

The Voyageurs Cup

In all the excitement of a busy June for Canada, it was easy for me to overlook one of the most positive developments in Canadian professional soccer in recent memory. And maybe even not so recent history.

In fact, my only real memory at all of Canadian professional soccer is sitting with a dozen or so 10-year olds from my soccer team in a blustery Winnipeg Stadium and nearly catching a ball that was cleared off the rock hard turf and into the stands for a throw-in. I couldn't tell you if the Winnipeg Fury won or lost that game, but they lost in the end when they folded in 1993.

* * * *

That was then, this is now. Toronto FC made a big splash in MLS last year, but much like the Blue Jays or Raptors, the effect on soccer was mostly regional. But when word came out that Canada would have an entry into the newly formed (reformed? renamed?) Concacaf Champions League, a new tournament was born.

Well, not quite. Six years ago, the Voyageurs got together and bought a trophy, and handed it out to the team that performed best in the all-Canadian matchups of the A-League/USL-1 schedule. Montreal have been Voyageurs Cup champions each year, so far.

The format for 2008 is different: since Toronto doesn't play Vancouver or Montreal in league matches, a round-robin tournament would have to be played outside of regular league schedules, with each team playing twice at home and twice away.

Enough with the basics. The fun part is that Toronto FC and their legions of rather awesome (but still quite self-loving) fans likely expected to walk over the opposition. After all, they are the big boys with high-priced talent. All the Whitecaps have, however, is Steve Nash's brother.

I was trying to come up with a dynamite analogy, comparing the three teams to the brothers on the show Home Improvement: TFC is Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), with clearly more talent than the other two; Vancouver is Brad (Zachary Ty Bryan), rugged, good looking (?), and oldest; and Montreal is Mark (Taran Noah Smith). He was weird, and even went goth for a bit, while the Impact are French.
TNS: Coming soon to Stade Saputo?

The only problem is that all three of their careers more or less plummeted and JTT even went gay, some say (not that there's anything wrong with that . . .) I am more hopeful for all of the Canadian teams in this tournament. Randy (TFC / Thomas) did go to Central America or something to do good deeds during the final season of the show (pursuing better acting gigs that never came) which might a good sign for TFC, as the winner of the Cup will play a Nicaraguan qualifier. But Zach Ty Bry simply disappeared after HI's run (he earned a soccer scholarship on the show, but that doesn't help for the purposes of this badly constructed metaphor), while Smith crashed and burned spectacularly, including a failed teenage marriage.

All this is to say that while TFC obviously has the better pedigree, the competition on the field has been closer. The first match was a tight 1-0 affair won by Toronto at Stade Saputo, followed by back to back 2-0 wins for Montreal against Vancouver. Most recently, Vancouver knocked off Toronto 1-0 at BMO Field, the first home loss of the year for Toronto. That match was full of all the diving, cheating, and complaining you'd expect from a Central American tilt, but Canadians Jim Brennan and Jeff Clarke were responsible for most of it.

The excellent Wikipedia page for the tournament will fill you in on the more prosaic details, like goal scorers, lineups, etc. With two big matches remaining, Montreal are in the driver's seat, and a Vancouver home victory next Wednesday would almost clinch the 7th straight title for l'Impact.

I'm in the 'anybody-but-TFC' crowd (I'm just jealous), and Vancouver would need to win huge next week to have any shot, so my support is fully behind the Impact, who play at BMO on July 22nd to end the tournament.

Don't miss any of the action. It's been great so far!

You might be wondering why I have chosen not to use the official name for the tourney, the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. Nutrilite doesn't seem all that bad; they're a vitamin company (healthy!) and they have Ronaldinho, the second-most horse-faced player in Spain (can you guess #1?), as a pitch man. But it turns out Nutrilite is owned by Amway, a company between Mormons and JWs on the annoyance scale.

Ronaldinho wearing the ever popular all-green strip of Team Nutrilite.

More importantly, the Voyageurs Cup is an important fan-supported tradition that has come a long way in the last half-decade, and deserves continued recognition. The winner of the Canadian Championship will be awarded the cup, and hopefully will be proud to call themselves Voyageurs Cup Champions.

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