Last weekend, with no EPL action, we were instead treated by Sportsnet and TSN to some wonderful FA Cup matches. The fixtures still had your traditional powerhouses like Manchester United and Tottenham involved, but instead of playing opponents at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, they were off in small stadiums across the country playing against teams like Yeovil Town and Peterborough United.
The quaintness of having a big team come into your little community stadium, and getting a chance to be world-beaters for all to see, has to be special for both club and fans. It was awesome seeing a big club like Man United change in a locker room that was barely larger than Paul Pogba’s walk-in closet.
The FA Cup does an amazing job of bringing small clubs and large clubs all over to fight for the title of “best in the country.” And it got me thinking, wouldn’t it be neat if we could have this in Canada as well?
Right now, the Canadian Championship is too short in duration to really feel like a hard-fought trophy win. Last season, and the one previous, Toronto FC raised the trophy after defeating two opponents, that’s it. When they raised the trophy at BMO Field, it was exciting, but it hardly felt like an epic celebration worthy of a trophy fought after a long hard tournament.
And of the two rounds for Toronto FC, the match against Ottawa Fury, in Ottawa, was the most interesting match. I was lucky enough to attend that match, and spoke to quite a few Fury fans prior. All of them spoke about the excitement of getting a chance to test their mettle against the big MLS club, and proving that while their side played in a lesser division, that they belonged on the same pitch as the mighty Toronto FC.
The feeling in the stands was jovial and when Ottawa scored its first goal. The excitement was so genuine and palpable, it was hard to not appreciate it even as a TFC fan.
With the Canadian Premier League finally getting some idea of a start date, and (fingers crossed) chances that it may get off the ground for real, there’s a chance for the Canadian Championship to get some real legs — to feel like a tournament that is more of a grind than just two home and away legs.
But, if the recent news is any positive indication, we could have pro soccer across Canada by 2019. Imagine that. Teams in Regina, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Halifax and Hamilton would be very likely, among other bigger cities. But imagine Toronto FC having to go visit a team in St. Catharines, Thunder Bay or Windsor. Picture the Whitecaps playing against Kelowna and Kamloops, or Montreal travelling for a big fixture in Trois-Rivières.
With the CPL adding more teams to the mixture in the Canadian Soccer pyramid, there’s a real chance for the organizers of the Canadian Championship to add more rounds to the tournament, and raise the profile of the tournament across Canada, from big cities to small towns.
Personally, I love the idea of one day watching Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco et al. playing against a Hamilton team at Tim Hortons Field. The QEW Derby would be something else, watching smaller market teams take on their big city brethren for the right to one day represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League.
The romanticism of the FA Cup lies in that any club can step on the field, and for just one night be a giant slayer and write its name in the history books. There are sixth division clubs taking on EPL clubs with 1/100th of the budget. Teams whose entire player budget and stadium is worth less than what Manchester City spends on one transfer.
If the CPL gets rolling, it will be nice to add some depth to the Canadian Championship with more rounds, more of a footprint, more coverage and more civic involvement. A trophy worth winning needs to have a feeling of hard-fought accomplishment behind it. Here’s hoping that in the coming seasons the organizers of MLS, the CSA and the CPL can give us something to really get excited about.
They need not look any further than the FA Cup for inspiration.
Note: an earlier edition of this article labeled the proposed Canadian Premier League as semi-pro, and implied organization by the Canadian Soccer Association. This has since been updated to reflect a more accurate portrayal. We apologize for any confusion.