Santos offers solution to Nutrilite spat - The Province


Montreal adds insult to injury by beating Vancouver 2-1

BY MARC WEBER

Montreal Impact coach Marc Dos Santos has a way to stop all this bickering over the outcome of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship and it doesn't involve him being forced to start his best 11 players.

Dos Santos drew the ire of Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson -- and plenty more -- on Thursday, dressing a lesser lineup against Toronto FC in a game that meant nothing to Montreal but had huge implications for Vancouver.

Anything other than a Toronto win by four or more goals and Vancouver was Nutrilite champs and Canada's representative in the CONCACAF Champions League. Toronto won 6-1.

"I know it disappointed the people in Vancouver, I know it disappointed our fans, but in the end, for the club, it was the best decision," said Dos Santos, whose regular starters added insult to injury by beating the Whitecaps 2-1 in a USL-1 game on Saturday at Saputo Stadium.

"The only way I see to have the teams compete with their best players in all the games is to have four teams in the tournament. Play a round-robin and afterward play a semifinals and a finals -- everybody's always alive." The suggestion won't end the debate over Dos Santos's roster decisions, which he called a philosophical matter. Nor will it excuse the Impact's performance Thursday, which club president Joey Saputo apologized for on CBC Saturday.

Members of the Impact fan club, Ultras Montreal, boycotted the first half.

"For the first time as president of this club, I was ashamed to walk around the stadium," he said.

But Dos Santos raises an interesting idea that many have bandied about, Sportsnet's Craig Forrest for one.

"I think it's a fantastic idea," said the former Premiership and Canada keeper. "It would add so much more to a Canadian championship, having the possibility of a giant-killing game. It would bring a ton of interest to it." The simplest route to a four-team tournament would be to add the Canadian Soccer League champion. The Serbian White Eagles are reigning kings of the 10-team loop that's based almost entirely in Ontario but looking to expand.

There's no semi-professional designation in Canada, but that's essentially what the CSL is with around half its players paid a modest salary.

There are also Canadian teams in the USL's Premier Development League -- the Thunder Bay Chill are defending champs -- and amateur club sides like Canadian champs the Calgary Callies.

Some have suggested a multi-league playoff to earn a fourth Nutrilite spot.

Stan Adamson, executive director of the CSL, said his organization was disappointed to be excluded from the Nutrilite tournament from the get go.

"The concern is obviously, 'Can the competition carry teams from a lower level?'" he said. "But we think our champion fits very well as the fourth team. Obviously we wouldn't be as strong, but on a given day we think we can give the USL teams a good run." Dos Santos, who previously coached Trois-Rivieres of the CSL, seconded that.

The Canadian Soccer Association, along with Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, organize the Nutrilite tournament, which has been a boon for domestic soccer.

In just two years, interest in the competition has grown tremendously, noted Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, but he said now isn't the time for change.

"I don't think there's any need to do that right now," he said of adding a fourth team. "We're just getting the top part right.

"People want to compare it to the FA Cup or open cups -- there's 100 years of history there and we're only two years into it. We've got to grow, but in a reasonable time frame." Richard Scott, the CSA's director of communications, said the Nutrilite tournament will have to grow eventually for Canada to gain more berths into the Champions League, although CONCACAF has to approve of the teams.

Rather than recommending any format changes at the next Nutrilite meeting, it's a good bet that the Whitecaps will lobby for some regulations around starting lineups.

Philosophically, they do not see eye-to-eye with Dos Santos.

mweber@theprovince.com

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