By Ken Jamieson
On Wednesday, FC Edmonton will embark on their third participation in the Canadian Championships. During the past four years, this competition has been dominated by a team that has been anything but successful in their league play. Despite having a poor record in MLS during the past four seasons, Toronto FC has been a regular participant in the CONCACAF Champions League as a result of their cup success in Canada.
How does a team struggling in its domestic its league manage to participate in the most prestigious club competition on the continent? Easy, they play their hearts out in four games that have absolutely no bearing on their league standing, the Amway Canadian Championships.
When the Canadian Championships were originally launched in 2008, Toronto FC was the sole Canadian team in MLS and was pitted against Vancouver Whitecaps FC and FC Impact de Montreal, both then of the second tier USL First Division. For Toronto it seemed a simple case of showing up for the games and they would, as the first tier team, prevail thus allowing them to represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League.
A funny thing happened on the way to Champions League that year. Toronto did not win the Canadian Championships, rather the lower division Montreal team not only won the Canadian Championship, but also went to the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League.
The failure to win the Canadian Championship combined with a dismal season in MLS served as an impetus for Toronto FC. No longer would it take the Canadian Championships for granted, no longer would it allow a lower division foe to get the better of them. The result has been four consecutive Canadian Championships, despite abject failure in MLS.
Since joining MLS in 2007, Toronto FC has failed to make the playoffs, has finished 13th, 12th, 12th, 11th, 16th and 19th in their MLS seasons. However, Toronto FC claims among the most Champions League appearances of all MLS teams, including a Semi-Final appearance last year.
It is unclear what the Canadian Championships will look like in 2014, with the addition of an Ottawa franchise in the NASL and pressure on the Canadian Soccer Association to open up the competition to the semi-pro Canadian Soccer League and possibly other leagues. But for 2013 the competition remains a four-team tournament with the winner capturing a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League Group Stage.
And required to win this tournament is good performances in four games. Quite honestly, the Canadian Championships is possibly the easiest route into a Confederation Championship of any country in the world. In England the top four Premier League clubs qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Even in the United States its four berths are allocated to the MLS Cup finalists, the MLS Regular Season Winners and the winners of the U.S. Open Cup.
With this in mind, it is very interesting to visualize what might be if FC Edmonton were to pull an upset and win this tournament. In addition to the Voyageur Cup Trophy, FC Edmonton would also be guaranteed four matches (two at home and two away) against CONCACAF opponents. Those two home games would have to be played at Commonwealth Stadium, and would be in the late summer or early fall.
The potential of using Edmonton’s less than tropical climate to the club’s advantage is tantalizing to say the least. FC Edmonton faces a tough challenge against its MLS opponents and perhaps the greatest impediment to success for FC Edmonton in the Canadian Championships is a factor that should really make it the darling of the tournament. FC Edmonton fields more Canadian talent than all three Canadian MLS teams combined. Winning the Canadian Championships with a team dominated by Canadian players would be a major feat and a PR coup for the Canadian Soccer Association, especially given the level of talent Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.
Eleven good men, playing to the best of their ability, can sometimes rise above more favored opponents and create a giant-killing so that FC Edmonton could win the Canadian Championship.
April 24 will either be the start of a magical journey for Edmonton’s local soccer team or a valiant battle against a superior foe. Whatever the result of the day, FC Edmonton will give it their best effort and make NASL fans proud. Stand United.
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