With the strike of Tristan Blackmon‘s right foot, the Vancouver Whitecaps won the 2022 Voyageurs Cup, and thus, brought the curtain down on a very entertaining Canadian Championship. From HFX playing in Guelph, to a dog fight between Cavalry and Vancouver, the competition this year had plenty of great moments.
Going into 2023, the Canadian soccer pyramid is constantly expanding, providing the perfect opportunity to tweak the Canadian Championship for the better. With that in mind, here are a few changes that could improve the competition, going into 2023 and beyond.
Don’t Go Straight to Penalties
Admittedly a personal gripe of mine, there is nothing wrong with having extra time in the Canadian Championship. The extra thirty minutes allocated at the end of a game are amongst the most intense and dramatic in all of soccer, as every mistake is amplified, and the risk/reward factor is so much higher than it is for most of a regular ninety minutes.
Going straight to penalties takes that element away, and immediately takes away the chance for the game to be won by playing the sport in its normal way, as penalties are supposed to be used as a last option, rather than the first option.
The 2020 Canadian Championship final between Forge and Toronto was a great game that deserved to be played for another half an hour, rather than be abruptly ended by a penalty shootout, denying either team a chance to win it more conventionally. There have been many great extra-time moments in soccer, such as Andrés Iniesta’s goal to win the 2010 World Cup, and Luis Suarez’s desperate (and ultimately successful) handball clearance against Ghana in the same tournament springing to mind providing fans with memories to last a lifetime, an experience which Canadian fans should also get to be apart of.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
Add More League 1 Canada Sides
As of right now, the overall winners of League 1 Ontario and the Première Ligue de Soccer du Québec qualify for the Canadian Championship, and you would imagine that the winner of League 1 British Columbia would also enjoy such an award. Seeing League 1 sides such as Guelph United and Mont-Royal Outremont is a lot of fun, and it’s amazing to see these sides have the spotlight and their chance to showcase their leagues.
As well as overall league winners, I think we can go as far, next season, as to add either regular season league winners (or the league runner-up in the event the overall winner wins their regular season league). This would bring the total number of League 1 Canada teams involved to six, and dramatically increase the number of lower league sides involved.
These six teams, combined with the three MLS teams and nine CPL sides (Vancouver will have a CPL team starting in 2023) brings the current field to eighteen. To work, the format will be an initial qualifying round featuring the four lowest-seeded League 1 Canada sides based on points per game with, the two winners qualifying for the round of sixteen which, at this stage, would have four League 1 Canada teams.
National cup completions are meant to be where fairytales in soccer happen, and allow fans of lower league sides to dream. The more people and towns that can be exposed to knockout soccer, the better.
Lower Tier Sides Automatically Host the Games (Until the Semi-final Stage)
Somewhat tying into the second suggestion, we saw this season just how much playing at home can make a difference, with HFX taking Toronto all the way in Halifax, and HFX themselves also having some difficulties when they travelled to Southern Ontario to face Guelph.
In order to make the occasion grander and more special, the Canadian Championship should always be played at the home of the lower-tiered team, whether that’s a CPL team hosting an MLS team, or a League 1 team hosting a CPL side. A game between Montreal and Cavalry may not sell out in Montreal, but it almost certainly will be a full house in Calgary, thus making the game a better experience to watch in person, and at home.
This ultimately would always give the lower tier team home field advantage, and increased the chance for headline-grabbing upsets as we saw with the bonafide classic when Pacific beat Vancouver, a result that happened partly because of Pacific’s home field advantage.
Of course, there has to be limitations on this. Once the tournament reaches the semi-finals, it should be a completely open draw when deciding home field advantage, plus, by that stage, a lower-tier side will have undoubtedly earned the right to enjoy their possible once-in-a-lifetime experience at an MLS stadium in front of a relatively large crowd, making a semi-final appearance feel like a bigger deal. The potential bumper crowds could be vital for allowing teams to take the next step in their development, and as such, continue to grow the sport of soccer in Canada.
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