This year marks the fifth edition of the Amway Canadian Championship, as the professional club teams of our country battle for the Voyageurs Cup and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. It is a championship that has so far eluded Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and it has been taken away in some unpleasant and extraordinary circumstances.
Normally we’d look at the history of events in chronological order, but this tournament has developed a strange phenomenon, with rather incredible events occurring every second year.
EVEN YEARS, EVEN RESULTS
2008: The beginning
The tournament began in 2008 with a round robin format between Whitecaps FC, Toronto FC and Montreal Impact. The biggest highlight for the then-second division ‘Caps in the first year was beating Toronto FC 1-0 on their home field on a goal by Martin Nash. Vancouver then went on to draw Toronto FC 2-2 in the return match at Swangard Stadium, going undefeated against their MLS counterparts in their first two meetings. Two losses to Montreal, however, would prevent the ‘Caps from contending that year. Montreal – who were also in the lower division at the time – would upset Toronto FC and become the first winners of the Voyageurs Cup, going on to a lengthy run in the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League.
2010: Unbeaten, but winless as well
Before we get to the interesting years, let’s skip ahead to 2010. Compared to the other exciting years of this tournament, 2010 was rather dull. By the third year, Canadian fans were well versed in the unexpected turns that a six-match Amway Canadian Championship could deliver. For the first time, the six matches were scheduled on six consecutive Wednesday nights, with all six matches broadcast by Sportsnet for coast-to-coast television coverage.
The tournament itself would be a very frustrating campaign for Vancouver, as they went undefeated, but did so by drawing every match against Toronto and Montreal. Toronto on the other hand, got two victories against Montreal, enough to repeat as Canadian Champions.
ODD YEARS, ODD MOMENTS
While defeat in the Canadian Championship has been rather ordinary in even years (2008 and 2010), the circumstances in odd years have been just that …odd.
What happened in 2009 and 2011 you could never make up. All teams have to overcome tough losses; you can lose on player’s mistakes, referee’s mistakes, unlucky bounces, or just good play from the opposition. But the way the ‘Caps were denied the Voyageurs Cup in those two years could only make you shake your head and try to explain what really could not be explained.
2009: Heartbreak from tiebreak
The ‘Caps started the tournament off with their first ever loss to TFC at BMO Field, but they appeared to turn around their fortunes by the end of their run of games, earning a 2-0 home win against the Reds to all but secure their first Canadian Championship. The problem for the ‘Caps was that there was still one match to be played, a match in which they had no part.
If Toronto were to defeat Montreal in the final game they’d tie Vancouver on points, and the tiebreak was goal difference (and not head-to-head results, or goal difference amongst the tied teams only). This scenario had Vancouver winning the title unless TFC could beat Montreal Impact by at least four goals. However, the Impact had nothing to play for. The result was an exceptionally odd match. One team was fighting tooth and nail to get a big win, while the other team couldn’t be bothered to stop them.
Things looked like they might go the ‘Caps way after the Impact's Tony Donatelli (a former Whitecaps player) made it 1-0 at Stade Saputo on a penalty kick. The cushion was now five goals for Whitecaps FC. But then, just before the half-hour mark, Dwayne De Rosario scored his first of three goals to kick off an incredible finale. Toronto FC scored six goals in all, including the fifth by Chad Barrett that turned out to be the competition winner.
Toronto FC were crowned Canadian champions, much to the disappointment of the stunned runners-up Vancouver Whitecaps FC – who were actually in attendance to witness the madness, as they faced Montreal in a match that weekend. It’s hard to imagine a more agonizing way to lose a title. But then again …
2011: Are you kidding me?
The 2011 Amway Canadian Championship featured a fourth team and a new format, with the switch from the familiar round robin group to a knockout style semifinal and final series.
The new team on the block was FC Edmonton in the second division – where the ‘Caps used to play. The Albertan side were matched up against Toronto FC in one of two opening series; the other opening series featured Vancouver Whitecaps FC against Montreal Impact.
Vancouver and Toronto would both prevail in their semifinal series to advance to the finals, where they would meet in a two-legged championship. Finally, a format where the ‘Caps could truly control their own destiny from start to finish…or so we thought.
The first match was in Vancouver and ended in a 1-1 draw, with Eric Hassli scoring for Vancouver. The second leg was played in Toronto a week later.
Vancouver came out strong and scored in the first half on a Hassli goal. The game was being dominated by the ‘Caps and with less than 30 minutes to go, they were again on the verge of claiming the Voyageurs Cup for the first time. Destiny, apparently, dictated otherwise.
With heavy rain flooding the field and lightning sparking down towards the stands, the conditions were deemed too dangerous to play and the match was abandoned, with the rules stating that it had to be rescheduled and replayed in its entirety – nullifying the ‘Caps 1-0 advantage. Everyone on the side of Whitecaps FC were of course outraged with the decision, while TFC were all too happy to comply. Fate had dealt the ‘Caps another cruel blow.
Five weeks later the match was replayed from scratch. Vancouver got off to a good start with a brilliant free kick goal from Camilo, but TFC eventually rallied for a 2-1 victory, once again denying Whitecaps FC the glory they seemed to deserve.
It makes you wonder what we have to do to get our hands on that Voyageurs Cup. But hey, at least it’s an even year.