Are We Really a Premier League? : How Much Does Soccer Matter in Canada?

Are We Really a Premier League? : How Much Does Soccer Matter in Canada?

OneSoccer’s draw was an exciting affair. It feels big time to have a (mostly) proper draw, where almost anything can happen, to help sell the Romance of the Cup.


Having some big names in Canada Soccer circles, Terry Dunfield and Tossaint Ricketts drawing the balls that set up the matches was a nice touch. And the eccentricities of the evening , from spinning around two balls in a clear fishbowl, to trying to figure out the right way to turn your hands to present the little paper scraps to the camera whilst looking in the mirror-image monitors – was quaint and enjoyable.

Vancouver Whitecaps, 2022 Voyageurs Cup Champions – (Vancouver Whitecaps/Twitter)

But upon waking up the next morning the Canadian Championship pixie dust had worn off. And I was left with a kind of Cup Draw hangover.

Let’s start back at the beginning before this Cup had grown beyond three teams.


The Canadian Premier League. I thought the name was a bit derivative from the start. But I was willing to go along with the hype, because it is ours. From Coast to Coast, a top flight league for professionals in Canada. The dream was real, a World Cup was coming, and who was I to rain on the parade? While the league would take a while to find its footing, they now have a recognized Player’s Association, have expanded twice (only contracted once), and are now part of a robust National Cup involving three levels of the Canadian soccer pyramid and three separate regional divisions. Not bad!

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So jumping back to the present, this morning I woke up and started asking myself the questions that needed to be asked but were lost to the seduction of the Cup draw.

Why the heck were nearly so many teams involved unwilling or unable to host games in Canada’s Premier Soccer Cup competition?

Atlético Ottawa and HFX Wanderers will play their Canadian Championship tie at a neutral venue (Andrea Cardin/Freestyle Photography/CPL)

Ok, some semi-pro teams may not have the quality of stadium the Cup demands. But actually, they had no issues. Of course one of those teams doesn’t have a stadium built yet, so pass to you Vancouver FC. And this time of year the most rare and blessed of unicorns, grass pitches, are not ready for the rigour of footy after a long, and still going Canadian winter. Finally, in a busy sports world there are bound to be conflicts in scheduling. Such is life, what can one do?

Well we can wake up! We’ve been hornswaggled, hoodwinked and bamboozled. And I’m not sure those are even real words, but I can’t risk our PG-rating here, so I won’t (can’t) say what I want to say.

We are being robbed of the full richness of the Cup by some strange circumstances. And being part of a league with the word “Premier” in it now seems to be a cruel twist of the knife.


Why, according to me, is this year’s Cup burnished and tarnished already? Let’s examine the reasons.

1 – Games have been moved to times of inclement weather and uncertain pitch conditions to benefit a Mexican/American soccer showcase.

2 – Teams have turned down hosting opportunities for unknown reasons in stadiums they don’t own, but are also not even the prime tenant in. (And they ain’t even grass, cuz I get that).

3- Why haven’t we broached the subject of the top university teams being involved?

  1. Leagues Cup

Ok, when it comes to number one, I never really expected existing soccer fans in Canada (diehard MLS fans or casual fans) to get onboard with CPL being Canada’s Tier One Soccer league – even though it is. But money talks and the Big Three are playing in a rich US league and so, that’s that. As such, CPL and below was always going to bend to the whims of the big boys.

But to some extent Canada Soccer and Concacaf (led by our most powerful soccer bureaucrat, Victor Montagliani) have diminished our game. The Canadian Championship is our FA Cup. It has some amazing history. With TFC-Impact (pre-CFMontreal) battles, broken leg winners, and more recently “lower” league upsets (Thanks VWFC!).

But that brief but blossoming history is being put on the back burner in Canada for the benefit of a Concacaf-sanctioned Mexico-America mid-season tournament that is the exact definition of sizzle over steak.

Nothing like killing the momentum of the league game in MLS, to prove to a bunch of people that don’t care, that the US game is as good as the Mexican one. The Mexican one is currently in disarray. The National team is in a funk. They can’t decide if Apertura/Clausura has a future and even pro-rel is on hold. So perfect time for USA to prove that can compete. Right?

Last season, the Seattle Sounders became the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League Ruidiaz and Nicolas Lodeiro lead the cheers for Seattle as they defeat Pumas 3-0 to win the CONCACAF title. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Except with the MLS hamstrung by wildly unbalanced roster spending and salary caps (TFC’s top two paid players will likely make more than the majority of rosters in the league), the ability to build teams in the traditional sense is uneven at best. So what will this tournament really prove? That glorified exhibitions take precedence over historical, national Cups in Canada (and North America, as the US Open Cup is similarly impacted in a condensed schedule).


2. The Unknown Reasons

Shared premises are always going to lead to scheduling conflicts. Being the 2nd tenant doesn’t help your leverage. But why would teams not just announce these issues and save their fans ire? (See the social media for ATO Supporters right now for example).

Well one reason might be that scheduling may not be the issue. What if it is costs? That could be a bit embarrassing. Remember Cup ties are mid-week events, which typically, but not always, draw more poorly that weekends. If you don’t own your pitch you are likely renting it. For big stadiums with small crowds, that may not be worth it. Especially if the Cup has some kind of gate share agreement, as Cups sometimes do. (Imagine, Ottawa and HFX sharing the revenues from a midweek game of a few thousand, after paying costs, it might be a negligible profit or even a loss. Running it at the Wanderers Grounds for a potentially bigger crowd at potentially lower costs may be more beneficial, for both sides.

Of course issue number ones negates this anyway.

There may be other issues like failure to get city permissions for an earlier start. Bureaucracy is a thing in Canada. All in all, it looks like a failure to buy into Canada’s “Premier” Cup competiton. And that’s never a good look.


3. Higher Education

The third is really just me stirring the pot. Last year, and right up until the start of this year’s tournament, Canada Soccer and the CSB has done a great job of selling the regional leagues, growing the game and filling out the tourney. We were all hyped for the addition of L1BC. So why not keep it going with chatter about University teams coming on board? The two finalists from Canadian University Championship game would be awesome. Sure there would be some logistics to work out. The tourney takes place when school is not in session and key players may be away with their summer teams. Also keeping early rounds regional is an issue, so maybe you need to enter the top Eastern and Western Squads, not necessarily both finalists. But anyway, make it happen! It brings the teams up to 16 and does away with byes! And who knows, maybe be a university team and a League 1 Canada team square off and we have our first small team in the second round.

Again, this is more my griping than a real mistake on anyone’s part. But let’s keep this tournament growing in size and in diversity of teams. (Challenge Trophy Finalists, We’re looking at you next for play-ins)

The Voyageurs Cup – Via Canada Soccer on Twitter

Look in the end, us Canadian Soccer diehards want the pro game to grow here. And the Canadian Championship is a trophy that can build on the romance of the scrappy underdogs and wealthy villains. We may never have our own Welcome to Wrexham, but we can definitely create our own Welcome to Canada moments.

But first we have to begin to believe we matter. At least as much as a tournament nobody’s asked for in North America that doesn’t include us, except to negatively impact us.

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