You know it’s been a tough winter when we get all the way to May 5 and Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelson is raving about how great it is to be training outside.
Both TFC and the Vancouver Whitecaps trained in glorious spring sunshine in advance of the first leg of their semifinal on Wednesday in the seventh edition of the Amway Canadian Championship. The Whitecaps have never hoisted the Voyageurs Cup—the name of the trophy given to the winner—though there were a couple times when they surely should have.
Wednesday programming alert: Watch Toronto FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (Sportsnet ONE, 7:30 pm ET) and FC Edmonton vs. Montreal Impact (Sportsnet ONE, 9:30 pm ET). | Sportsnet World Online | TV schedule
The name of this event is not lost on Vancouver coach Carl Robinson. The former TFC player has brought a young team to Toronto including several young Canadian academy players. He says Canadians deserve to play in the Canadian championship. Good for him.
We know for a fact that goalkeeper Marco Carducci, a 17-year-old Whitecaps residency graduate, will start his first professional game in goal. Bryce Alderson, 20, will make his debut, too. There will likely be more. Toronto coach Nelson has a number of Canadians who start regularly and that will be the case Wednesday as well.
In the other semifinal series both FC Edmonton and Montreal Impact have several Canadians in their respective lineups, with Montreal adding several youth players to their gameday squad as they are allowed to do so under the competition rules.
And this is the importance of the Voyageurs Cup in my opinion. If our professional teams don't engage in developing and nurturing Canadian talent, then shame on them. But they are. MLS clubs may not be built to handle the load that cup competitions bring, but it's an opportunity to give these players a chance. As Robinson said, "How do you know when young players are ready? You give them an opportunity."
The tournament has grown over the years. The newly minted Ottawa Fury of the NASL engaged FC Edmonton for the right to play Montreal in the semifinals. That means the tournament now includes five professional Canadian clubs. And for the Fury and Edmonton, this competition is huge. It’s a chance for them to play tough competition and to see how they stack up.
It's the Amway Canadian Championship. It’s for the right to hoist the Voyageurs Cup. The winner gets a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. It could mean a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup. It’s a long and difficult journey but for that reason alone, it’s worth embracing.
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