All you need to know about the 2013 Amway Canadian Championship

The winner of the Canadian Championship is awarded the Voyageurs Cup. Photo courtesy Jason Gemnich/CSA

The winner of the Canadian Championship is awarded the Voyageurs Cup. Photo courtesy Jason Gemnich/CSA

It’s a special time for Vancouver Whitecaps fans: the Canadian Championship. Every year, it’s an opportunity to see old friends from the second division, dream of Central America and ugly cry after the final.

Vancouver will visit FC Edmonton tomorrow in the first leg of a two-match semifinal, with Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact in the other side of the bracket. The Championship, also known as the Voyageurs Cup, is how I got into following the Whitecaps, and it’s always been the source of some lovely memories. And some really, really awful memories.

What’s at stake?

The winners of the Canadian Championship are awarded the Voyageurs Cup, named for the national team supporter’s group that bought the trophy. They are also granted a spot in the CONCACAF Champion’s League, which is like the European version except with less money and more trips to crazy loud Mexican and Central American stadiums. (MLS teams usually compete for that through the league or the U.S. Open Cup, but we are special Canadian flowers and we get our own route. It works out.)

How did it start?

It started life in 2002 as the Voyageurs Cup, a trophy founded on donations by the national team supporter’s group and completely organized by the fans. At the time, all the Canadian professional teams played in the North American second division. From 2002 to 2007, it was awarded to the team with the best results in the regular season against the other Canadian teams in the league, which was invariably the Montreal Impact. Montreal competed yearly with the Whitecaps, TFC’s predecessors the Toronto Lynx, and, for a time, a Calgary team.

But things were changing rapidly by 2008. Toronto got an MLS expansion team and CONCACAF was rearranging its eight-team knockout cup into a 24-team format more like Europe, with group stages. Since American teams had always been awarded to the top two MLS teams, Canada needed to find a way to pick their own champion. Enter the Canadian Championship, a four-game round-robin between Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Eventually, Edmonton joined the second division, and in 2011 it changed to its current form, home-and-away semifinals followed by a two-legged final.

Has it been fun?

Oh yes. Back before Vancouver and Montreal got their MLS spots, it was a fun chance to take swipes at big-league Toronto. To those who had schlepped it in the second division for years, Toronto fans seemed like plastic jerks with no sense of history, who thought they were important just because they had games on TV. (Now, of course, we’re all that way.) A 1-0 win at BMO Field in 2008 was an underdog’s triumph, and though the ‘Caps lost, taking five points off Toronto kept them from seizing the first Cup of the new era.

Vancouver really wants to win one of these, largely because it keeps evading them. Last year’s 1-0 wet-fish loss against a TFC team that had been dire in almost every other match it played was brutal. In 2011, Vancouver were leading 1-0 in the 60th minute of the final’s second leg at BMO Field before rain and lightning caused the game to be called off. It was restarted a month later from 0-0, and TFC maddeningly won 2-1.

And then there’s 2009.

What happened in 2009?

Oh, 2009.

It was an exciting time! A young nerd from the B.C. Interior who’d been watching Tottenham since 2005, I started following the exploits of the second-division Vancouver team, who’d recently been awarded an MLS franchise for 2011. On a vacation to the Lower Mainland, I poked my head in the door for my first ever pro game live, a Voyageurs Cup game against Montreal. It was wonderful, although I missed Ethan Gage’s 60th-minute goal because I was making an emergency run to the portable washrooms behind the bleachers that held the Southsiders in Swangard Stadium.

I prolonged my vacation enough to make the next V-Cup game against Toronto, and it was delirious. With all the pressure — Toronto would win the Cup on our ground if they beat us — Ansu Toure scored twice, and Vancouver turned aside those big-league jerks. Not only that, but barring an inconceivable four goal win for TFC in their final game against Montreal, Vancouver were going to win the trophy themselves. We were dreaming of Costa Rica. There was a pitch invasion. It was like this:

Two weeks later, Toronto and Montreal lined up at Stade Saputo, with a crew of Whitecaps players watching from the stands. It couldn’t go wrong, right? Montreal wouldn’t ship five. They were too good for that. Even though they’d fielded what looked like a weak side, when they scored the first goal on a penalty, that looked like it was done and dusted.

And then Dwayne DeRosario, that asshole, scored twice before halftime. Then again for a hat trick. Then Amado Guevara scored. And then Chad Barret scored. Guevara’s 90th-minute goal sealed it. Toronto had won 6-1. Each goal was like a punch to the stomach.

Writing for the 24th Minute at the time, I had absolute sorrow. From Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi down, everyone was furious at Montreal for rolling over. They maintained they were saving their energy for the league game against Vancouver on the weekend, when, to add insult to injury they trounced the Whitecaps on national TV. The Montreal supporters’ group boycotted the first half in protest. There would be no Costa Rica. Toronto lost in the first round of the Champions League.

It was sporting hurt. Vancouver fans fly banners that read Je me souviens to remember it. One of these days, we’re going to win this damn thing. Maybe this is the year.

No formal deal between CanWNT and the Whitecaps on UBC training centre

women's team

Jon Herdman and Chelsea Buckland of the Canada women’s national team look on as Ida Chong announces the Whitecaps’ National Soccer Development Centre in September. Photo Kai Jacobson/The Ubyssey

I’ve been going through the agreements between the Vancouver Whitecaps and UBC on the new Whitecaps training centre, and there’s one element conspicuous by its absence: The Canadian women’s national soccer team.

When the province unveiled plans for the National Soccer Development Centre in September, it was identified as a “west-coast base” for the Canadian women’s national team, with cabinet minister Ida Chong going back down memory lane to the Olympics and manager Jon Herdman and player Chelsea Buckland in attendance. “The national team will be here, we’ll make use of these facilities as long as we’re welcome, and this may be our little tipping point,” Herdman said at the time.

When you read the agreements for how the fields to be used, the guarantees, which promise 75-25 and 85-15 per cent access for the new turf and grass fields respectively, are solely between the Whitecaps and UBC, with the ‘Caps getting the larger share. The conference also promised community access would make up 50 per cent of the facility’s use, and that is expected to come from each side’s allocation; UBC has suggested the 50-50 split is between internal and external groups, as UBC has suggested. (UBC Board of Governors proposals list “National soccer team” as a primary user of the facility.)

With a women’s national team camp in Vancouver coming up from December 12-20 and no location yet announced, where does the program fit into these commitments?

Here’s what Whitecaps COO Rachel Lewis said about the relationship in an interview I did for the Ubyssey:

We have a very close relationship with the CSA, and obviously with the Canadian Women’s National Team being based here, and [the] 2015 World Cup coming up, we hope that we’re going to be able to be a base for the team. Obviously, Jon Herdman’s working through his plans and we’re not sure yet what his training plans are for the coming few years, but if we can support that group in any way we’re obviously going to look to do so, we want to see them be successful … We’re really closely linked with Jon and his team on the Girls Elite side as well as supporting the national team.

But the “hope to be a base” for the team is a bit of a change in terminology from what seemed to be a sealed deal at the press conference. The CSA refused comment, saying that there was no official agreement between the association and the Caps. Lewis confirmed there was no agreement.

Nothing formal, really what we’ve said to Jon and the CSA is, “We’d like to understand what your needs are and what your plans are up in the leadup to 2015 and beyond, and tell us how we can support you.” These conversations are undergoing, but it’s still quite preliminary, as we haven’t even moved out to the campus yet.

There’s nothing to say there won’t be significant partnership – a CSA spokesperson suggested that the team was currently conducting siting meetings before deciding where in Vancouver to hold the practices, so this month’s camp could still be at UBC’s existing pitches. The new fields and training facility aren’t near being completed yet, and hey, it’s not like the CSA are paying for it, so the Whitecaps don’t have to guarantee the women’s team anything.

But if you got a different impression at the press conference in September, it’s clear that for now, at least, the National Soccer Development Centre isn’t quite a home for the program.