The Canadian Championship isn't being taken seriously. This is something that supporters of all three Canadian clubs have voiced since the tournament was expanded in 2008 to include Toronto FC. It is an opinion that has been voiced even more frequently since all three sides joined Major League Soccer, and with the tournament reaching the semi-final stage next week it is likely to come up once again.
The crux of the argument is that the trio of teams don't play their best players during the competition, instead opting to give reserves and academy players game time. While it hasn't always been true, the team that plays the most MLS regulars usually wins the competition. I.e the team that takes the Voyageurs Cup seriously.
Ahead of this year's semi-final round, there has already been a bit of controversy in this regard out of Vancouver. Marc Weber of The Province is reporting that Canadian Alphonso Davies will play in the club's upcoming Voyageur's Cup games. Davies is just 15.
The concern about the Canadian Championship being considered a second-rate competition is fair, but it will never be on the same level as regular season MLS games. The attendance, and TV numbers, and the fact that fixtures are played late on weeknights and the five-team format add up to create this fact.
Yes, the competition would likely draw more attention if teams played their star players with consistency. However, just as important as having star players involved, perhaps even more, is the importance of having young Canadians involved. This is the "Canadian Championship" after all.
MLS rules allow for teams to call up USL players on short-term contracts for competitions like the US Open Cup, the Amway Canadian Championship and the CONCACAF Champions League. These players can only be called up for four days.
These rules would allow Toronto FC to give players like Malik Johnson and Raheem Edwards a chance to play in next week's matches. These are two examples of players who have impressed at the USL level this season, who Toronto FC might want to give a run out at the senior level.
It was said last year that the Canadian Soccer Association would be putting in certain parameters designed to make sure teams played their top roster. Instead, they might consider putting in a rule that makes sure more Canadians are involved.
Two year's ago, a young FC Edmonton midfielder named Hanson Boakai had a dominant tournament, one which saw him draw a lot of interest from clubs around North America. Another young Canadian who used the competition as a launching platform for his career was Kianz Froese of the Vancouver Whitecaps, who was given a start against Toronto FC that same year.
If teams want to play their star players, then great, getting to the CONCACAF Champions League is a good platform for a club, and supporters do value winning the Voyageurs Cup. Teams have different priorities, and the fact that this year's semi-finals come before an extended international break may lead to higher calibre rosters.
However, there should be nobody bemoaning the fact that young players are being used in this tournament over stars. After all, having the tournament as a launching platform for the careers of young Canadian players is as good of a story as this competition can create.