On Wednesday evening the Voyageurs Cup makes its glorious return as FC Edmonton visit the Ottawa Fury for the first leg of their Preliminary Round meeting. By the time the event is finished we will get to see the Voyageurs Cup handed out for the 14th time. The question will be if this is the year that a third different team finally lifts the top prize.
The Voyageurs Cup has been handed out since 2002 to the top Canadian team. In the early days the top team was determined by the record between the Canadian teams in USL. Under that format the Montreal Impact won seven straight cups.
In 2008, the (insert corporate sponsor here) Canadian Championship came in to existence and used the Voyageurs Cup as the prize for the winning team. The first three years of the new event featured teams in different leagues so they used a round robin format with the top team after four matches being named the champions. The Montreal Impact continued their winning streak in the first year of this format running their total number of cup wins to 7.
2009 was the first year that someone other than the Impact got the chance to hoist the Voyageurs Cup as Toronto FC won what would be the first of four consecutive titles. The first two would be in the round robin format before the Cup took on more of a tournament feel in 2011 thanks to FC Edmonton joining in on the fun bringing the total number of teams in the event to four and allowing them to play a two round tournament with both rounds consisting of two legs.
The addition of the Ottawa Fury in 2014 meant the creation of a third round of play as the two NASL sides met in a preliminary round with the winner taking on the top seeded MLS side in the semifinals. Hopefully it will not be the last time that the event grows with many fans hoping to see the event one day take on more of an Open Cup feel with far more teams taking part.
For this year's event the big issue may be the lack of momentum throughout the tournament. The first two rounds take place like normal in April and May but then there is a massive gap before the final which does not take place until August. The reasoning for the gap is to work around the Women's World Cup and to set up a long term move to June/July which should hopefully set the stage for an expanded event down the road.
Even with the momentum killing gap their will certainly be a number of interesting story lines to keep an eye on in this year's Voyageurs Cup. Here are just a few that we will be watching:
1. Seven times the bridesmaid and never the bride. Not quite an expression that rolls of the tongue but that is the reality for the Vancouver Whitecaps in this event. 2014 saw them snap a run of five years of finishing in second place as they missed out on the finals but it did run their title drought to 13 years as some form of the Whitecaps have been involved in every year that the Voyageurs Cup has been handed out. They have found a number of dramatic ways to come up short in recent years with the "Miracle in Montreal" and the Toronto's friendly thunderstorms being at the top of the list. Could this year be the one where they finally end the streak of coming up short? We sure hope not.
2 .The Montreal Impact are playing in the final of the CONCACAF Champions League but can barely do anything in the league. Will their impressive cup form carry over to another edition of the Voyageurs Cup as they look to claim their 3rd straight title and 10th overall?
3. Will this be the year that a team coming from NASL finally claims a MLS scalp? If it is going to happen it would mean one of Edmonton or Ottawa knocking off the Vancouver Whitecaps in the semifinals. It would be fun to watch and would certainly add another amusing chapter to the Whitecaps history in this event.
4. It is the Canadian Championship but just how many Canadians will see playing time during the event. Unless one of the MLS teams plays their USL side in the tournament the total number of minutes played by Canadians in the event will likely be very low. FC Edmonton seems to be the team in the best position to play the most Canadians but even they are unlikely to play more than a handful of Canadians.
5. Bringing things closer to home we will be watching just how seriously Toronto FC take the event this year. They played something very close to the first team in all four games last season and came up just short in the final against Montreal but we have no idea how Greg Vanney (assuming he is still here) will approach the event having never seen him manage in a cup competition.