A new era in Canadian soccer history begins Tuesday when the Montreal Impact host Toronto FC in the opening game of the inaugural Canadian Champions League (CBC bold, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET).
The Canadian Champions League is a three-team round-robin tournament involving Toronto FC (Canada's lone representative in the 14-team Major League Soccer), and the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, who compete in the USL First Division (one level below MLS).
The competition also serves as the Canadian qualifying tournament for the CONCACAF Champions League.
The qualifying competition runs from May 27 to July 22, with each team hosting two games. The top team in the final standings will be Canada's representative at the CONCACAF Champions League, an international club competition that crowns the best pro team in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The CONCACAF Champions League winner then goes on to play at the FIFA World Club Championship in Japan in December 2009 against continental champions from Europe, South America, Asia and Africa. Italian giants AC Milan won the 2008 FIFA World Club Championship.
Even though the Impact and Whitecaps play in a lower league, Toronto captain Jim Brennan and his teammates will not take their opponents lightly.
"The games are going to be a battle," Brennan told Toronto FC's official website.
"I don't think there will be too much pretty soccer. There will be tackles flying around because everybody wants to win. Our fans want to get one up on Montreal and Vancouver and their fans will be thinking the same. It's going to be entertaining and exciting with plenty of tension. We're the big club, the MLS team, so they'll want to beat us and knock us off our perch, but we're not going to give them the chance to do that."
The Impact are looking forward to testing themselves against an MLS club.
"The motivation will be high because it's a different championship for us," said Impact coach Nick De Santis.
"There is also a pride factor for us to play an MLS team and to do so at home. We have to try to win this home game because we will have to play on the road too. We are facing a club at a different level with players that can hurt you at any point. They are doing very well right now and they have a lot of confidence, but we have to stay focused and play with concentration."
Return visit for FC goalkeeper
Tuesday's game in Montreal marks a homecoming of sorts for Toronto goalkeeper Greg Sutton.
The Hamilton native played five seasons for the Impact before joining Toronto in 2007. During his stay in Montreal, Sutton was named USL goalkeeper of the year for four seasons, as well as league MVP in 2004. He also set club records for all-time regular-season shutouts (67), wins (72) and games played (132).
Even though he's in Toronto now, Sutton still has fond memories of his time with the Impact.
"Montreal has a special place in my heart," said Sutton. "They've given me an opportunity to be who I am today, and I'm excited to go back there in front of their fans and hopefully win the game."
The next game in the Canadian Champions League sees the Impact take on Whitecaps in Montreal on June 17. Toronto's next contest is on July 1 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 3 p.m. ET) when it hosts Vancouver.