For a tournament that featured only a handful of teams and had a trophy purchased by fans, the Voyageurs Cup has always punched above its weight.
Nearly every tournament has featured some sort of dramatic and defining moment: Will Johnson’s broken leg winner, Sebastian Giovinco’s stoppage-time goal, the miracle in Montreal comeback, Felipe’s late goal to clinch the cup for the Impact in 2013. Over the years, there have been storybook triumphs, countless heartbreaks, and rivalries created.
However, with only 4-5 teams competing in past years, the competition has also become a little repetitive. Just one round and a final for the heavy hitters also meant it was pretty easy to win, thus Canada’s first-ever MLS team Toronto FC’s colourful trophy cabinet.
That all changed this year with the introduction of seven Canadian Premier League sides and the multitude of new storylines they brought with them. Yet another excellent final on Wednesday, in which the Montreal Impact won on penalties after a drama-filled second half, was the cherry on top of what was undoubtedly the best edition of the competition to date.
“This year with more teams, it’s a more serious competition than just playing 2-3 games and then you’re in the final,” said Montreal Impact midfielder Samuel Piette after the match. “Now we have more clubs in Canada and we want to be back on the soccer map. With a serious competition like this one, it proves soccer has grown here.”
Montreal’s road to the final this year included very difficult ties with Cavalry FC and York 9 of the Canadian Premier League, as well as away trips to those venues.
“It was tougher with more teams and more travel, especially with the condensed schedule in MLS, it was really difficult,” said Piette.
With those Canadian Premier League teams came some added intrigue. The opportunity for teams from a new league with mostly Canadian players to beat established MLS clubs, the new internal league rivalries they brought up with them (specifically Cavalry vs. Forge), as well as an Ottawa Fury side who have a sticky relationship with the league to say the least, meant drama throughout the competition.
They were also surprisingly competitive. The defining moment of this year’s competition came when Cavalry beat a Vancouver Whitecaps side with several players who had been cut by the MLS team. Halifax also looked very solid against an established Ottawa Fury, while York and Calvary caused issues for the eventual champions from Montreal.
Certainly, there still could be improvements made. A drab first leg of the final, as well as underwhelming attendance at both legs, was perhaps a further case for this competition to have just a one-game final.
The tournament’s format will also certainly change as more teams get added. In that sense, there is no reason that MLS clubs and the higher seeded CanPL clubs, both of whom play in recognized top divisions, shouldn’t start the competition in the same round.
The MLS teams won’t necessarily like this. As Piette mentioned before, it does complicate their already condensed schedule and has often been treated as less valuable than the regular season. But worst case, it would force these teams to rotate their roster more, which would mean more opportunities for young Canadian players.
After all, that has been a big benefit of this competition over the years. It is where a 15-year-old Alphonso Davies made both his first appearance and start for the Vancouver Whitecaps to use just one example. The number of opportunities given out is only going to grow as more young Canadian players get a chance to prove themselves against MLS sides.
So as we enter the third chapter of the Voyageurs Cup’s history, the first impression has been impressive. What makes things even more exciting, however, is that this could be just a small taste of the level of competition we can expect for many years to come.