The 2021 Canadian Championship rolled on this week, as the quarter-finals wrapped up with a bang. In this, we recap those 4 quarter-finals, before looking ahead to what awaits us in the semi-finals.
It was quite the day for Canadian Soccer.
3 games, spaced out over a span of just over 7.5 hours, played to determine who would become 3 of the 4 semi-finalists in the 2021 Canadian Championship.
A week after Forge FC defeated FC Valour in an entertaining matchup to become the 1st side into the semi-finals, CF Montreal, Toronto FC and Pacific FC all joined them on Wednesday, winning their respective quarter-finals to join the elite group of 4 still left competing for Canada’s top cup.
Across a thrilling 4 games of action, there were plenty of goals, drama and Canadian content on display, all coming together to help put up a strong advertisement for the Canadian Championship, which felt like it really announced its return with these games.
Now, as a result, 2 massive semi-finals await us, meaning that the good times should continue to roll on this fall, as well. In one semi-final, 2020 finalists Forge will take on 2019 winners and current title holders, CF Montreal, while in the other semi-final, current Canadian Premier League leaders, Pacific FC, will take on a team with plenty of history in this competition, Toronto FC.
So far having witnessed some thrilling matches, cupsets and drama through the first 2 rounds, it’s looking to be an intriguing final 4, all of whom will certainly believe in their ability to lift the Voyageurs Cup, and claim the spot in the CONCACAF Champions League that goes along with it.
After missing out on a proper 2020 edition due to the pandemic, with the result of that tournament still remaining undecided with finalists Forge and Toronto yet to play each other, it’s been nice to have these games back, and the semi-finals should just be a continuation of that.
But before we look ahead to those 2 semi-finals, however, let’s take a step back and see what stood out from the 4 quarter-finals, ones that were all quite memorable in their own way.
From high-scoring affairs, to cagey thrillers, and everything between, we saw it all this round, making it one to remember.
Forge FC vs Valour FC:
And to begin, it’s important to start with the game that came well before the others, and that was Forge versus Valour, which was played a week earlier due to Forge’s commitments in CONCACAF League, as they had to accommodate both hosting this game and their Round of 16 tie against Independiente in CONCACAF League.
In a matchup between a side that has slowly started to pick up steam as of late in Forge, and one that has been freefalling after a fast start, Valour, it was going to be interesting to see if form would play a role in this game, or if any magic of the cup could occur.
But with vengeance on their mind, as Forge looked to put the memories of the 2020 Canadian Championship chaos behind them, they came out strong against Valour, scoring 2 first-half goals en route to a 2-1 victory.
They didn’t make it easy for themselves, as a second-half Austin Ricci goal then made things interesting for Valour, but the guests would just be unable to cancel out the first half Forge goals from David Choiniere and Woobens Pacius, leaving the hosts to cruise to victory.
With that, Forge became the first team to qualify for the quarter-finals of this Canadian Championship, and the second-ever CPL side to do so, joining Cavalry from 2019, adding to their quickly-growing list of accomplishments as a club.
Paced by the play of ‘Mr Cup Football’ himself, Choiniere, who has made a knack out of scoring in key cup competitions for Forge, and the rising 20-year-old rookie, Pacius, who has 5 goals in his first 10 games as a pro, it was the sort of performance that we’ve come to be used to seeing whenever Forge plays.
On the other side, it was another tough loss in a long line of them for Valour, as they’ve just won twice in all competitions since leaving the CPL bubble that they hosted to start the season, which has seen them fall from the top of the table to 5th out of 8 teams as of writing, leading to the firing of head coach Rob Gale this week.
Plus, they couldn’t even use Ricci’s 7th of the year as a consolation prize, as Valour’s star forward injured himself while scoring the goal, which he created by capitalizing on a tough error from Forge’s goalkeeper, Triston Henry, putting things from bad to worse for Valour.
Ultimately, that left a very deserving Forge side to make that first step into the final 4, where they’ll be quite confident in their chances of progressing to the final, especially based on their past endeavours in CONCACAF and CPL league play.
Halifax Wanderers vs CF Montreal:
Then, moving to this week’s Wednesday tripleheader of games, Halifax hosted Montreal in the first of those 3 games, and this one ended up being a thriller, as both teams combined for a match that won’t soon be forgotten by either side.
To start, Halifax, boosted on by a home crowd of over 6000 people at Wanderers Ground, sent the fans into a joyous rapture when Cory Bent scored a fantastic long-ranged effort early on in that game, giving his team a surprise lead, one they’d hope to hang on to for the cupset.
But unfortunately for them, that just poked the giant. Less than 10 minutes later, Matko Miljovec scored his first for Montreal after a great run from Zorhan Bassong, putting his team right back in the game, and it’d stay that way until late on in the match.
Despite a decent push from Halifax that could’ve seen them maybe etch out a surprise goal or two, Montreal threw the kitchen sink at their hosts for a result, and that’d pay off for them in the 90th minute, as Ballou Tabla, playing his first minutes for Montreal since 2020, scored an 89th-minute winner to silence the home crowd.
Not satisfied with that, he then went on to add an insurance marker on top of that, allowing the guests to cruise to a 3-1 result, as they survived that early scare to get a result that was probably pretty reflective of how the game went.
Thanks to Tabla’s resurgence, as the former Barcelona man showed off a new physique and skills after missing most of this year due to injury, they were able to do what it took in order to grab a win, even if it wasn’t always pretty at times.
On the other side, though, that should take nothing away from the play of Halifax in this game. Up against a talented Montreal side, they didn’t lay off whatsoever, putting the pedal to the metal whenever possible, even though they were lacking a bit of their usual quality in certain areas.
Plus, with Montreal technically being the holders of this competition, that they even held them tied until the 89th minute of the game is a massive achievement, especially considering that it was the Wanderers’ first game against MLS opposition.
So although they’ll feel like they could’ve maybe gotten more out of this game, they can certainly hold their heads high after this one.
As for Montreal, though, they’ll have to get set for a stiff test in the form of this aforementioned Forge side, which offers a unique threat in their own right, and will certainly offer a good battle to the 2019 holders.
Toronto FC vs York United:
Then, we had probably the most anticipated matchup heading into this round, and that was the first Toronto Derby between Toronto and York, who met for the first time in competitive action.
On one side, you had a Toronto side who has struggled massively all season long, sitting at the bottom of the MLS standings, while on the other, you had a York team in the midst of a quiet resurgence, one that has them dreaming of being able to make the playoffs after a slow start.
Because of that, it certainly felt like there was more of a cupset on the cards than there would have been in the Montreal game, as it felt like if there was a time where we’d see another Canadian MLS team would follow in the footsteps of the Vancouver Whitecaps and lose to a CPL team, we were looking at it in the eyes with this Toronto team.
But heeding the advice of what the Whitecaps learned in their previous cupsets, including their one to Pacific FC 1 round earlier, Toronto took care of business against York, cruising to a dominant 4-0 victory at home.
Paced by two first-half goals from Jonathan Osorio and Ifunanyachi Achara, which were both created by the lovely service of Jacob Shaffelburg, TFC would have wings the rest of the way, padding their lead with late goals from Yeferson Soteldo and Noble Okello.
For TFC, it was a much-needed result, as they finally played with a bit of confidence offensively, but more importantly, they kept their first clean sheet since May, as their defence finally ended a streak to forget on the side of their game.
Plus, with some strong play from Canadians such as Osorio, Shaffelburg, Okello, Richie Laryea and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, they also showed that they’ve got a good core of Canadians to lean on in this competition, which might come in handy in their matchup against Pacific.
On the other side, though, York can hold their heads up high despite the heavy result. They might have lost by 4 goals, but the game was 2-0 right until the 84th minute, which shows that they were in it right to the end, and could’ve maybe stolen something out of this one on another night.
Plus, by playing a hefty contingent of Canadians, including 10 of their 11 starters, many of them under the age of 23, York showed their continued commitment to investing and playing local talent, which was slowly started to shine through at the CPL level, and will pay off in years to come.
So although their first crack at the Toronto Derby may have proven fruitless, they have no reason to be down on themselves heading into the rest of the season, especially as they sit in a playoff spot as of writing, a position they can most definitely hold onto if they keep playing as they have as of late.
But as for TFC, this is a massive win, as they managed to keep their dream of hoisting the cup for the 8th time alive, showing why they’ve consistently done so well in this competition over the years.
Cavalry FC vs Pacific FC:
Lastly, but most definitely not least, we then had the late game of the soiree, and that was Cavalry versus Pacific, which was played under a lovely evening sky in Calgary, where the hosts looked to return to the semi-finals of this tournament, something that they also did in 2019.
But alas, that magic wouldn’t be there again this year, as Pacific rode an early Terran Campbell goal en route to a grinding 1-0 win, one where they locked things down with impeccable efficiency to deny their hosts a route back into this game.
Thanks to Campbell’s tally, his 2nd in the Canadian Championship this year and 9th in all competitions, Pacific showed why they’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the CPL this season, keeping a very professional clean sheet.
After they survived a 7-goal thriller against the Whitecaps to even be here, they showed that they’re comfortable playing both run-and-gun and efficient soccer, as they most definitely had to employ the latter in this one.
Because of that, they managed to take care of business against a Cavalry side that many would’ve bet a lot on winning, as they’ve shown to be giant killers in the past, and would certainly be expected to do some damage against TFC.
Instead, though, Cavalry will be left to content themselves with the league, where they have a lot of unfinished business, to be fair. Having lost the 2019 CPL final after being the top team all season, and narrowly missing out on the 2020 final, they’ll look to show that 3rd time is the charm in league play, especially considering that they’ve been neck-and-neck with Pacific in the race for the top spot in the league standings for most of the 2021 season.
But one race that they’ll be unable to keep up with their Island foes in is the Canadian Championship, as Pacific earned the right to face Toronto thanks to their heroics in this one, and having already beat the Whitecaps earlier this year, they’ll fancy their chances against a TFC team that has endured its fair share of struggles this season.
Player of the Round: Ballou Tabla
Otherwise, it’s important to designate a player of this round, and without a doubt, that player is the international man of mystery, Tabla.
As mentioned earlier, he rose from the ashes to deliver a killer brace at the right time for Montreal, who couldn’t be more grateful for this timely goals.
And as a result, it has some people wondering what’s next for the 22-year-old Canadian. Obviously, he’s a far way off the form he showed when Barcelona invested in him a few years back, but he’s still a very good player, and has a lot of growth still left in his game.
So if he can keep up this form, and help Montreal win games, you can only imagine what might be in the future for Tabla, who after losing his way a little bit in recent years, has a chance to get back on track after his performance in this round.
Honourable Mentions: Jacob Shaffelburg, David Choiniere
Goal of the Round: Cory Bent
Elsewhere, we have to show some appreciation to the finest tallies, and there was no tally finer than Bent’s versus Montreal, which was the sort of goal you could only dream of scoring in a video game.
Despite dragging Samuel Piette on his back like a backpack, and having next to no angle to shoot, that didn’t stop Bent, who delivered a picture-perfect strike, one that Sebastian Breza had almost no chance of saving in the Montreal goal.
So although it didn’t end up coming in winning effort, everything about the goal screamed ‘Golazo’, and with that, it gives Bent a deserved honour as ‘Goal of the Round’.
Honourable Mentions: David Choiniere, Ballou Tabla
Save of the Round: David Norman Jr
Lastly, we have to give a shout-out to those who keep the balls out of the net, as they can often be forgotten in cup ties such as these ones.
But instead of giving this nod to a goalkeeper, as one would typically do in such a situation, we have to give a nod to Norman Jr, who made a phenomenal save on Victor Blasco with his head in the dying moments of the Cavalry versus Pacific tie, keeping his Cavalry side in it right to the very end.
So although like with Bent, his effort came in a losing cause, that shouldn’t take away from how spectacular it was, as he made a stop that many can only dream of making with their hands, using his head, and that alone earns him the ‘Save of the Round’.
Honourable Mention: Nathan Ingham
Now, though, there won’t be much rest for the wicked, as the next round of cup action will probably come up pretty soon here.
As of writing, no dates or locations have been announced, but as per Canada Soccer’s release from the summer, they hope to play the games by the end of September.
If they aren’t able to do that, which could happen, they’d have to wait until mid to late October, as there’s an international window at the start of next month, so either we’ll see these 4 teams back in Canadian Championship action within the next 10 days, or it might be a whole month until we see them again in this competition.
In terms of the locations, those are also yet to be decided, as they are chosen by coin flip, but based on what we’ve seen so far, the best outcome would be for both Forge and Pacific to host their respective ties.
Either way, though, when these 4 teams do finally meet, some spicy ties await us in the form of 2 CPL versus MLS matchups, because as seen so far this year, whenever teams from those 2 leagues meet, fireworks can tend to ensue.
On the road to crowning a 2021 Canadian Championship winner, it’s only fitting that those are the 2 matchups that stand between us and crowning 2 finalists, and if the quarter-finals have anything to say in the matter, those games stand to entertain.
After a long time without cup soccer in this country, it has returned in a big way recently, and what we’ve seen to date is just a small sample of what awaits us going forward.
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Nathan MacMillan