Gershon Koffie Nathan Sturgis
Getty Images

Big opportunities lie ahead for Whitecaps FC, should they win Voyageurs Cup on Saturday

With the 'Caps Canada Week' campaign well underway and Vancouver Whitecaps FC coming off a 1-0 defeat to Toronto FC on Wednesday evening, the most critical match of the 'Caps season now awaits them. Today, Whitecaps FC will again battle Toronto FC for the Nutrilite Canadian Championship and the timing could not be more perfect: Canada Day long weekend.

During the 2008 Canada Day long weekend, Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC battled at BMO Field in an NCC contest that saw the ‘Caps defeat their arch-rivals when Martin Nash slotted home the match’s only goal on a first-half penalty. At the time, the result was crucially important, as it extended their lives in pursuit of the Voyagers Cup.

Fast forward three years plus one day, and the 'Caps and Reds will once again meet at BMO Field to anoint the tournament’s champion. The match will feature a restart of the May 25 contest that was abandoned due to lightning and excessive rain. With the stakes increased this time around, Whitecaps FC will hope they can draw on the 2008 Canada Day long weekend result and find inspiration to qualify for the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League.With the 23 other competitors awaiting the Canadian representative, a victory on the Canada Day long weekend would allow Whitecaps FC to find hope in a separate competition away from MLS campaign.

Should Whitecaps FC accomplish the result in Southern Ontario, the 'Caps would enter the 'Preliminary Round' of the CONCACAF Champions League and face Nicaraguan club Real Estelí FC. The format of the Preliminary Round encompasses a two-match, home and away series, which would see Whitecaps FC host the first leg on Bell Pitch at Empire Field on Wednesday, July 27. Whitecaps FC would then play the second leg in Central America on Tuesday, August 2.

The ‘Caps also have history on their side in this situation, with Real Estelí falling to defeat against Montreal Impact in the Preliminary Round of the inaugural 2008-09 CONCACAF Champions League. History shows Montreal scored the only goal of the two-match series at home on July 27, 2008 - a possible foreshadow, with the opening fixture against the same team, in the same round, on the same date, three years later.

Should the ‘Caps progress past Real Estelí, they would qualify into Group C of the CONCACAF Champions League, which guarantees the ‘Caps at least six matches. The ‘Group Stage’ features a four-team, round-robin format with a home and away match series against each team in the group. The top two teams advance, while the two bottom teams are eliminated.

The implications of this morning's match for Whitecaps FC are crucial. With a chance to win their first Voyageurs Cup title and open a new opportunity outside MLS play, history would appear to be on the 'Caps side. The only question remaining is whether the Canada Day long weekend magic can repeat itself again.