The Canadian Championship tournament has not been kind to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Vancouver has struggled to make an impression in the annual competition since its launch in 2002, with its only championship coming in 2015 – and that was after finishing runners-up in five of the six previous years. Back in the final for the first time since 2016, Vancouver hosts Toronto FC on Wednesday at BC Place in the first leg of this year’s final.
Key to the Whitecaps’ chances of lifting the Voyageurs Cup will be Alphonso Davies, the 17-year-old Canadian teenager who recently signed with German club Bayern Munich following a transfer deal worth $13 million. Davies will join Bayern at the conclusion of the 2018 MLS season. Before then, he’ll be focused on helping the Whitecaps qualify for the playoffs, and win their second Canadian Championship.
With five goals and 10 assists in 22 MLS appearances this campaign, Davies is easily Vancouver’s most dangerous and dynamic player. Toronto coach Greg Vanney believes the Canadian youngster has upped his game even more since signing with Bayern.
“We’re going to have keep an eye on Davies. Obviously, he’s a handful and has proven to be over the last few weeks, especially as his confidence has been soaring. We need to have a good sense and a plan that we’re accounting for him,” Vanney said.
TFC captain Michael Bradley has also been impressed with Davies ever since the Canadian made his MLS debut as a 15-year-old in 2016.
“You don’t need to watch him for long to see how talented he is, and to see the ability and the potential. His way of running with the ball, and putting guys on the wrong foot and going by them is special,” Bradley offered.
The last time these teams met in the Canadian final was pretty special. After winning 1-0 at home, TFC trailed the Whitecaps 2-0 in the second half of the second leg in Vancouver. Had the Whitecaps held on to that two-goal lead, they would have won the championship. But Toronto’s Will Johnson had other ideas, as he scored deep into injury time. Though TFC lost 2-1, Johnson’s goal meant the Reds won the series on the away goals rule.
Bradley called Johnson’s injury-time goal a significant moment in team history, but he downplayed any animosity between the two sides, and pointed out that the Montreal Impact remain Toronto’s biggest rival.
“I know there’s been some good games and some big moments in some of those games with Vancouver. Obviously, two years ago Will scored in the last second to for us to win the Canadian Championship there… But I wouldn’t say there’s any big rivalry,” Bradley said.
“The league in some ways tries too hard to push some of these rivalries that aren’t rivalries. The best rivalries still happen in a natural, organic way. Clearly, the rivalry and the history that we have with Montreal … for me, that’s our big rival.”
The return match in this two-legged, aggregate series is scheduled for Aug. 15 at Toronto’s BMO Field.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The winner of this tournament will receive the Voyageurs Cup, which was originally funded and awarded by the Voyageurs, a Canadian soccer supporters group founded in 1996. Since 2008, the Canadian Soccer Association has presented the Voyageurs Cup to the tournament champion.
The Montreal Impact won every Voyageurs Cup from 2002-2007 when the trophy was awarded to the best Canadian team in the old USL First Division.
A formal round-robin tournament was first held in 2008, a year after Toronto FC entered Major League Soccer. Montreal won the 2008 Cup to continue its dominance, but TFC won the next four tournaments in a row. The Impact claimed back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014.
Vancouver knocked off Montreal in 2015 to win its first Voyageurs Cup, but couldn’t repeat as it lost a heartbreaker against Toronto in the final the following year. TFC repeated as Canadian champions in 2017.
GATEWAY TO THE CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
In addition to hoisting the Voyageurs Cup, the tournament winner earns an automatic berth as Canada’s lone representative in the CONCACAF Champions League.
TFC reached the finals of last season’s CONCACAF competition, losing to Mexican club Chivas, after winning the 2017 Canadian Championship.