Magic of the Cup: What to takeaway from a historic round of Voyageurs Cup action

Fans of Canadian football were treated to a grand slate of games last night, as the second leg of the Canadian Championship 3rd round kicked off all around the country. While fans in Vancouver, Halifax and York can be disappointed that their teams were unable to make it through to the next round, they can look back and acknowledge that last night was a great advert for the game in this country. Here is a quick recap for any of you that missed anything.

Montreal Impact vs York 9:

This was expected to be the biggest discrepancy, at least on paper, during this 3rd round. Montreal has been holding down an MLS Eastern Conference playoff spot for most of their season, while York finished 6th out of 7th in the spring season, but are doing better in the fall edition, currently sitting in 3rd after a couple of matchdays. Despite that huge (supposed) gulf in quality, York put up a great fight, scratching out a 2-2 draw at home, before falling 1-0 in Montreal last night. While in the first leg the Impact went a bit more rotation-heavy, they had most of their big guns on display last night, as they tried to scare off York. But York were undeterred, as they put up a resilient display, led by compact defending and good counter-attacks, and had their strikers not forgotten their shooting boots in Ontario, they could have been through to the next round. 

Halifax Wanderers vs Ottawa Fury:

The grudge match of the 3rd round, there were a lot of eyeballs on this one, as Ottawa was supposed to be the 8th team in the CPL before deciding to stay in the USL for at least another season. With people on the CPL side thinking it was because Ottawa felt superior, while on the Fury’s side they felt like they had a good thing going on in USL, it meant that whoever would come out on top in this one would have some considerable bragging rights. Ottawa knocked the first punches in the 1st leg, picking up 3 away goals as they downed Halifax 3-2. But, despite needing 2 goals to advance, Halifax nearly pulled off the impossible, going up 2-0 inside 40 minutes. Ottawa would have the last laugh, however, as they bagged the next two to take it 5-4 on aggregate. It was nonetheless an impressive display from Halifax, who were 1 more goal away from bringing the game to penalties. 

Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Cavalry FC:

While the other matches were part of a doubleheader that made things a bit difficult to keep an eye on the both of them, the marquee matchup of the evening stood alone at 19:30 PST. While it was expected that the Whitecaps, with players like Ali Adnan and Hwang In Beom making more than Cavalry’s squad combined, would walk over Cavalry, the Calgary-based side had other ideas. They scratched out a 0-0 draw in Calgary the first leg, denying the Whitecaps an away goal, leaving all to play for in this one. Against a Vancouver side that is reeling (winless since May), they surely had to fancy their chances. And they took them. They scored the first goal inside 10 minutes, meaning Vancouver would have to score 2 to advance, thanks to the away goal rule. While Vancouver did eventually find their first goal in the second half, Cavalry muted the Caps dreams of lifting their 2nd Voyageurs Cup, as they scored a 70th-minute header to put the game all but out of reach. While the Caps are going through a historically bad campaign in MLS, only having won 4 times and firmly in the basement, while Cavalry soars, winners of the spring season and undefeated so far in the fall, it was still expected that the MLS side would find a victory. Instead, it was all about underdog fever at BC Place, with Cavalry continuing to make history. 

What did we learn?

Three great games, 3 close results. Here is what the tournament has taught us so far:

Open Bracket:

The 2019 bracket (Canada Soccer)

While the Voyageurs Cup has always had a complicated history with brackets, due to there usually only being 4 or 5 teams, this year’s edition was hoped to be a lot more exciting, thanks to the 7 new CPL additions. Instead, the CSA fumbled the process, creating a staggered bracket which meant that teams entered at all sorts of rounds (pictured above), for no reason at all. 

While it was probably done in mind to protect weaker teams from getting stomped by the bigger outfits, it looked to be a mistake from the get-go, and last night only proved it. The magic of the cup is that any team can beat any team in any given match or two-legged set, so that every team believe at the possibility to chase some silverware. While it was possible they were trying to emulate some of the formats done in England, France and in the US, where they have regional brackets and teams entering at all sorts of rounds, those tournaments work like that because they often have hundreds and even thousands of teams entering, meaning that they have to try and accommodate for everyone. 

While it would not be surprising to see Canada keep this same format for another year, as disappointing as that would be, it would be great for the tournament if they could find a way to open up the bracket. The CPL is expected to expand next year, adding a team or two, which helps the process. If they can take those new teams, along with the MLS teams, the Ottawa Fury (wherever they end up next year) and a couple of the top amateur sides in a couple of provinces/regions, they can make it a 16-team bracket, allowing for a proper round of 16, quarter-final, semi-final and final format. Seed the teams from 1-16, have a play-in tournament for however many amateur slots there will be, and then play two-legged series all the way in. It will only take 8 matches, which is a lot, but considering that Cavalry, win or lose, will have already played that much after the semis, it certainly would be an improvement. 

CPL Teams are no joke:

These slate of games have been great promotion for the CPL, has it has given instant credibility to a brand-new league. To come out against some solid MLS sides, and not only survive but also compete is a great advert for A) the quality of Canadian talent falling through the cracks B) the quality of coaching and C) the recruitment model. There is no better example than Cavalry, who not only beat the Caps with a fraction of a budget that Vancouver, but did so with a lot of former Caps players, as a lot of Cavalry’s squad are players that use to be in the Vancouver development system but fell through the cracks. 

We touched on what the Caps can do to fix that here, but one must also give a lot of credit to the CPL. If they can continue to grow these teams, especially in places where they have no MLS team, the country will benefit greatly from it in the future. 

Say a player from Winnipeg, who would currently fall under the Whitecaps academy catchment, instead goes to Valour, and grows to become a top player for them, it would in turn benefit soccer in Canada. Instead of leaving to Vancouver, where he can either become an Alphonso Davies and do incredibly well, or become an Elijah Adekugbe, who is a great player but one that just was unable to follow the quick timeline that MLS teams like to have before falling through the system, he can stay and develop in his hometown, become a professional and eventually be sold on when the time is right, whether that is at 16 or at 24. 

Not only does that allow teams like Valour to grow their profile, with the money received being invested back into the club, but it means more Canadians are growing and being shipped around, which in turn means a better National Team pool. It also will encourage teams in MLS to invest in those Canadians, as they can see how talented they are and invest in them based on what they see first hand in these cup competitions and when scouting them in the league. 

With MLS doing no favours to help grow Canadian talent (Canadians counting as internationals in the US being one of them), the CPL is doing well to ensure that the Canadians that fall through the cracks are finding a stable place to play, and we will only see the benefits of it as the league grows. 

Made for TV:

This is not a shot at onesoccer, who despite their many issues have done well to broadcast their games through a mostly reliable streaming service, but both this tournament and the CPL need to find its way to TV. While TV slowly dies across the world as streaming becomes the new trendy topic, it continues to dominate in sports, with many people still electing to keep sports cable to stay on top of their favourite teams. 

While the demographics are changing, and streaming continues to become more and more popular, TV continues to shine in Sports, and for that reason, both the Voyageurs Cup and the CPL should be on TV. The CBC game of the week has been great for that, allowing for people to get a taste of what the league has to offer, but for all the sampling done, there needs to be a buffet. 

Look at hockey, Canada’s shining sport. While they have games on CBC every Saturday, which everyone can access to, pretty much every game can be found on the tube in some form, despite the lengthy 82-game schedule. Soccer has a lot shorter schedule, so it’s not that hard to imagine them finding time to put these games on TV. While onesoccer is understandably doing well off of fans that already love the sport, having more games on TV will do a lot to start to sway both the casual fan and uninformed fan. There are a lot of people out there who fall into those categories, either big European soccer fans that haven’t fallen in love with the Canadian game yet or big sports fans that love to support what their cities have to offer. 

The best solution would be to have a bit of both. Streaming is great, especially for those on the go, but television provides a big boost in terms of attracting viewership. Seeing a night like last one, or some of the other games that have gone on as of late in the CPL, makes one wonder about the kind of attention that could have been garnered if they were broadcast to a national audience. The Cup is “made for TV” drama, now it’s time to get it on the big screens. 

Looking Forward:

While us over here at BTSVancity no longer have any skin in the game, with both Pacific and Vancouver facing eliminations at the hands of Cavalry, we will be following along the next 2 rounds with interest. Can Ottawa find revenge at the hands of a Toronto team with fans that destroyed their stadium last time around? Can Cavalry continue to defy the odds? Looking forward to the rest of the Voyageurs Cup, and hopefully Canada Soccer, the CPL and onesoccer can do the work needed to continue to push the beautiful game forward in this country.