This Wednesday, Vancouver Whitecaps FC begin their quest to win the Voyageurs Cup for the first time when they visit arch-rivals Montreal Impact in the first leg of their Nutrilite Canadian Championship semifinal series.
Stade Saputo in Montreal, Quebec, will be the venue for this week's important first leg, as Whitecaps FC make their fourth appearance in the competition since its inception in 2008, though this will be the first time they contest the Voyageurs Cup as a Major League Soccer club. The decisive second leg will take place at Empire Field the following Wednesday, May 4.
The 2011 edition also sees an expanded and modified format to the competition following the inclusion of FC Edmonton, who along with the Impact, play in the second-tier North American Soccer League (NASL). Two-time Voyageurs Cup holders Toronto FC are the top seed this year and will face newcomers FC Edmonton in one two-leg semifinal, while second-seeded Vancouver and third-seeded Montreal contest the other two-match semifinal series. FC Edmonton will host Toronto FC in the first leg at Commonwealth Stadium next Wednesday, April 27, before TFC host the second leg with their Alberta-based outfit at BMO Field on Wednesday, May 4.
The semifinal winners will then contest the final over two legs, with the highest-seeded team in the final earning the right to determine whether they open the series at home or on the road. The first leg takes place on Wednesday, May 18, while the second leg is set for Wednesday, May 25.
Though many in the 'Caps squad will be new to the competition this season, head coach Teitur Thordarson is one of several staff and players that know full well the significance of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. Vancouver will also be familiar with many of the players in the 2011 Impact squad. Marc Dos Santos' side includes two former Whitecaps FC players in midfielder David Testo and defender Zurab Tsiskaridze.
The Toronto FC versus FC Edmonton semifinal series is also intriguing. The Alberta-based club has made a positive start to their inaugural season, while their first leg with Toronto FC will be the club's inaugural home match. TFC, meanwhile, are facing another challenging campaign in MLS after making changes to their coaching and playing staff in the offseason.
Played as a three-club round-robin tournament the past three years, the Nutrilite Canadian Championship has provided great drama for soccer fans across the country, as Whitecaps FC, Toronto FC, and the Impact have battled for Canadian supremacy and the country's lone spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. After winning the inaugural competition in 2008, Montreal had a memorable Champions League campaign that took the Quebec-based outfit through the group stage to the quarterfinals. In 2009, Toronto FC claimed their first piece of silverware in improbable style, as a 6-1 victory over the Impact in the tournament's final match edged The Reds past Vancouver in the tournament standings. TFC then showed the consistency needed to repeat as Voyageurs Cup winners in 2010 with two wins over Montreal and two goalless draws with Whitecaps FC.
The value of winning the Nutrilite Canadian Championship not only begins and ends with claiming the Voyageurs Cup and the bragging rights as Canada's top club, it offers the winning side the opportunity to represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League and play the top clubs in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League then earns the opportunity to represent the confederation at the FIFA Club World Cup, which takes place every December.
The FIFA Club World Cup is a seven-team tournament that brings together the club champions of the six FIFA confederations and the champion of the host nation's top division. This Wednesday, Real Salt Lake have the opportunity to become the first club from MLS, the United States, and outside of Mexico to reach the FIFA Club World Cup, as they face Mexico's Club de Fútbol Monterrey in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League final, with the two-leg series level at 2-2 on aggregate.
Tickets for Whitecaps FC's Nutrilite Canadian Championship semifinal, second leg, match versus Montreal Impact at Empire Field on Wednesday, May 4, kicks off at 8 p.m. PT. Individual match tickets start at $20, plus applicable service charges, and are available at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centres, online at ticketmaster.ca, and Charge-by-Phone at 1.855.6.GO-CAPS (1.855.646.2277).