The tournament itself has been called the "Canadian Championship" since 2008. But as the seventh edition begins it may finally be living up to that title. Canadians have not only found themselves in more starting positions than ever before, but they are younger and playing more important roles. In just the four matches that have been played so far, the future of soccer in Canada has performed quite the exhibition.
From the kickoff of the Voyageurs Cup, Canadians have made their mark. 17-year-old Hanson Boakai has been the talk of the competition, scoring a goal in FC Edmonton's 3-1 victory over the Ottawa Fury, and adding an assist in their 2-1 first leg Semi-Final victory over the Montreal Impact. Five other Canadians have also made appearances for Edmonton in the tournament. The eliminated Ottawa Fury, on the other hand, featured eight Canadian players over the two legs.
In the Semi-Final between FC Edmonton and the Montreal Impact, a 2-1 home victory for the Eddies, Canadians were prevalent both on the roster sheet and on the score sheet. Canadian Michael Nonni was the hero for Edmonton, scoring the winning goal in stoppage time. Meanwhile, the Impact started young Canadians Maxim Tissot (22) and Karl Ouimette (21) on their backline, while 19-year-old Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare came on as a substitute.
But it is the Vancouver Whitecaps who are getting the most attention for their Canadian content, and for good reason. In their 2-1 loss to Toronto FC at BMO Field, not only did the Whitecaps feature a number of Canadians, their ages were very promising as well. 17-year-old Marco Carducci, 18-year-old Kianz Froese, 21-year-old Russell Teibert, 18-year-old Marco Bustos and 20-year-old Bryce Alderson all started for Vancouver.
"I wanted to give players opportunities," said Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson, "because if you are a senior player you have been in that boat [where] you just wait for a chance. I think today a lot of my young players grabbed the opportunity."
The player who may have made the most of the opportunity given to him was Carducci, who started in goal for the Whitecaps. Carducci has been one of the most talked about young players in Canada since he captained the country at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup. In the first leg against Toronto he gave everyone a reminder as to why. After a nervous start, he was solid throughout, and a big reason as to why his team have a good chance of advancing when they return home on Wednesday.
"They put him under pressure," said Robinson of Toronto FC's attack. "But after the first four or five minutes he handled it very well. He got stronger. We are talking about a future [Canadian International] goalkeeper here. Absolutely fantastic."
The match was also special for Teibert, who was selected as the Captain for the young lineup. Having played 47 MLS games, Teibert is the biggest success story for the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program, something Robinson is quick to point out.
"With this young group of players I wanted him to be the leader," said Robinson of his captaincy selection. "They look up to him. He's got a lot to learn, but he showed [in the first leg] what a fantastic young player he is, and that he can still go to another level."
Froese was another player who impressed many during the match against Toronto in the midfield. On a number of occasions he challenged Toronto's defense, especially in the first half. Robinson said that he was asked on the touchline who Froese was by someone who was impressed with his skill, a huge compliment to the 18-year-old. Froese's recent performances have earned him a call up to the Canadian U20 Camp in Florida this week, a program that he believes is only getting better.
"Obviously [National Team Manager] Benito [Floro] is doing a good job with us and he is laying down how we want to play. I think we are just moving forward and progressing."
Robinson was so impressed with many of the performances from his young players that he is considering playing a number of them in the next leg. This may not happen, as Vancouver do not have an MLS match this weekend and therefore have the flexibility to play a full lineup, but the sentiment is very positive.
Ryan Nelsen echoed Robinson's praise of the Whitecaps young talent, who he thought handled themselves incredibly well during the match. He believes Canadian soccer in making plenty of progress in terms of developing talent.
"Vancouver have a fantastic academy and they've shown that over the year," said Nelsen. "They've got a lot of depth to their team, with young players. It's something that really we want to be as well. I think we are probably a couple of years behind them [in terms of] producing a steady influx of good young Canadian players."
Toronto may be behind Vancouver, but they have already done plenty of work in this regard. On the other side of the pitch from all these young Vancouver talents were Jonathan Osorio, Kyle Bekker and Doneil Henry, all of whom are young Canadians who have made a name for themselves in MLS.
But even Henry was quick to point out the significance of what Vancouver has been able to accomplish, and the potential they are currently demonstrating for the future.
"Being one of the Canadian guys out there it means that much more," explained Henry of the first leg against Vancouver. "A lot of the Canadian guys did really well for both teams, everyone is taking their opportunities."