On its 10th anniversary, the Canadian Championship has already started to gather emotional moments. In Montreal Tuesday evening with an Impact 5-4 aggregate win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, both teams showed that there is something to this cup competition.
“Football is surprising, especially this tournament,” said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson. “I don’t know what it is. It’s hard.”
It is there that the Impact first received major attention by beating the country’s only MLS team at the time, Toronto FC, in 2008. It’s moment that is still cherished by many long-time Impact supporters, head coach Mauro Biello included.
“I’m Canadian, for me it’s important to win this and it’s important to transmit this to my players,” said Biello. “It’s important for us. It’s a pride to be the Canadian Champion. Yes, we lived it in the past and we want to live it again this year.”
Lifting the Voyageurs Cup also means punching a ticket in the CONCACAF Champions League, which has gotten the Impact the bulk of its international attention. After defeating Toronto in 2008, the team went on to shock the region and reach the quarter finals. More recently, the Impact became the second MLS team to reach the final of the competition’s Champions League era in 2015.
However, the tenth edition of the Canadian Championship has an asterisk over it. This year’s Voyageurs Cup champion will not necessarily represent Canada in the Champions League. Due to realignment, the 2017 champions will need to play a playoff game in August against 2016 champions Toronto FC, in the event that TFC doesn’t win this year’s tournament.
Nevertheless, for Canadian veterans such as Patrice Bernier, Biello’s message was long understood and the Impact will want a 10th Voyageurs Cup in their trophy cabinet.
“[The Canadian Championship] means a lot,” said Bernier. “It’s also some sort of supremacy. It’s to see who is the best Canadian team, no matter if there’s only four-five [teams in the tournament], it’s a cup game just like in other countries.
“We’re going to go to the final and hopefully get a third Canadian Championship to go to the Champions League in the future but it’s to show that you’re the best in Canada.”
With many international and cup competitions under the belt, most notably the UEFA Champions and Copa Italia, Blerim Dzemaili understands the challenge and the thrive his team has for the Canadian Championship.
“It’s very similar [to Copa Italia] but every has to be honored and I think we honored the game,” said Dzemaili. “Every competition you play gives you experience. I think everything is an honor to play in, also the Champions League.
“I think we should do everything to win the [Voyageurs Cup] and then we can go on with the Champions League.”
For homegrown goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau, the Canadian Championship also means a chance to play. The 23 year-old from Montreal’s south shore has gotten his second career start Tuesday night and will be Biello’s keeper of choice for the competition.
Crépeau relishes the idea of winning a trophy in his first competition with the Impact’s first team, but understands the steps needed to get there.
“It’s really important [to get back in the Champions League]. It’s been two years that we didn’t get to put our hands on the trophy now it’s a must win,” said Crépeau. “We must lift the cup and then go against Toronto in August. But it’s 45 by 45, when it’s a final that’s a home and away series it’s 45 by 45.”
In Crépeau’s words, the Impact are potentially four halves away from lifting their third Voyageurs Cup and six halves away from regaining access to the CONCACAF Champions League.