Pacific FC is two rounds away from playing the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer.
The draw was announced Tuesday night for the Voyageurs Cup, also known as the Canadian Championship, and which is Canada’s version of the FA Cup in England and Copa del Rey in Spain.
Pacific FC was drawn in the opening round against fellow Canadian Premier League-squad Cavalry FC, with the first leg May 15 in Calgary. The second leg will be played May 22 at Westhills Stadium in Langford.
The winner of that will advance to the second round against CPL club Forge FC of Hamilton on June 4 and June 12. Forge FC has a first-round bye.
The winner of that second-round set will meet the Whitecaps on July 10 and July 24. The Whitecaps enter the competition in the third round.
“I noticed right away the Whitecaps were in our [bracket],” said Pacific FC president and co-owner Josh Simpson.
“That would be a fantastic matchup if it happened. But we’re only taking it one game at a time — and first up is Cavalry FC.”
Simpson acknowledged it won’t be easy getting through Cavalry FC and Forge FC to get to B.C. Place and the Whitecaps.
“It’s a tough competition, but we are confident we are putting together a very good team,” said Simpson, a Victoria product who earned 43 caps for Canada and played pro in Europe.
Open national Cup competitions, including all levels of the pro game, are a common feature in soccer in all nations.
Canada’s version for the Voyageurs Cup includes the nation’s three MLS teams — the Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and Toronto FC — and the seven charter members of the pro CPL, including Island-based Pacific FC, which begins its inaugural season in April.
Each of the Canadian Championship rounds will be two-game sets, home and away, with the winner being determined by aggregate score. Ties will be decided by the greater number of away goals.
As defending Voyageurs Cup champion, Toronto FC from MLS will not enter the competition until the semifinal stage.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to meet teams you would not normally play,” said Pacific FC head coach Michael Silberbauer, the 25-time-capped Danish international, when the competition was announced last month.
“Playing an MLS team, for instance, would be a big challenge for our players but an exciting one.”
The five-round, 13-team, 24-match Canadian Championship will also feature semi-pro teams from League-1 Ontario and the Première ligue du Soccer du Québec along with the Ottawa Fury from the United Soccer League. The USL’s amateur arm, USL 2 (formerly PDL), which includes the Victoria Highlanders, will not be included.
These domestic Cup competitions are rife with upsets and known for their giant-killing underdogs.
“Throughout Europe, people love seeing the upsets, and these are always tough games for the higher seeds,” said Silberbauer, who won the Danish Cup with FC Copenhagen.
“[The Danish Cup championship] was a huge thing for me in my career.”
The Canadian Championship runs May 15 to Sept. 25. The champion will earn Canada’s berth into the 2020 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League against the domestic pro club champions and runners-up of North America and Central America. The U.S. and Mexico get four berths each and Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama one berth each.
Three Voyageurs Cup champions have reached the quarter-finals or better in the CONCACAF Champions League since 2008. Toronto FC was a semifinalist in 2011-12 and grand finalist in 2018, losing the final to Guadalajara as Mexican clubs have won the title every year since 2006. The Whitecaps were semifinalists in 2016-17.
Regular-season league play in the CPL begins April 27, with York 9 from the Toronto area playing Forge FC at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. The rest of the regular-season schedule has yet to be unveiled, but Pacific FC is expected to open April 28 at a revamped 6,000-seat Westhills Stadium.