Omar Salgado thumps up
Bob Frid

2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship: Surprise packages

It seems a long time ago that Vancouver Whitecaps FC beat their Canadian rivals Toronto FC in the opening game of the MLS season on March 19.

Since then, both clubs have been hit with injuries, suspensions, a lot of travel, and many games in a short space of time. The 'Caps have an MLS record of five draws and five defeats since opening day, compared to Toronto FC’s 2W-3L-5D record following the 4-2 season-opening defeat in Vancouver.

The Nutrilite Canadian Championship may be seen by fans as more games in an already crowded schedule, but to the clubs, it is an opportunity to win a cup early in the season that could hopefully kick-start their MLS season. Winning the Voyageurs Cup can give the players a boost, with the reward being the chance to play CONCACAF Champions League soccer versus clubs from North, Central America, and the Caribbean.

With the final series tied 1-1 going into next week's second leg, Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC have two very young and exciting players that may still play a crucial role in helping either club win the title. Whitecaps FC have our number one draft pick Omar Salgado, while TFC have 19-year-old Joao Plata. In what has been a trying season so far for both MLS outfits, these two players have been a breath of fresh air to their respective clubs.

Salgado came to Vancouver with a lot of hype as a surprise number one draft pick. Yet, 'Caps fans have seen what the club's coaching staff already knew about the El Paso, Texas, native. The striker has performed well as a starter and as a substitute, scoring his first MLS goal in a 2-1 defeat at Columbus Crew.

Despite being the leading scorer in the 2011 MLS Player Combine, there was some surprise when Plata was not selected until 49th overall by TFC. So far, the teenage Ecuadorian has showed his qualities with two goals and two assists for The Reds this season, although he had a difficult time in last Wednesday's first-leg draw with the 'Caps at Empire Field.

They will not be mistaken for each other on the pitch. Salgado stands 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds, while Plata is 5-foot-2 and 140 pounds, but both are players that are comfortable on the ball, are an offensive threat, and can light up a stadium with a magic moment.

This Nutrilite Canadian Championship final could go a long way to turning Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC's MLS seasons around, while also putting some silverware in the cabinet. Both clubs got funny looks in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft when they selected Salgado and Plata, but nobody is questioning those picks now.