The Vancouver Whitecaps await.
When Soccer Canada said it was going to overlay the international game’s template wholesale across the country, ahead of co-hosting the 2026 World Cup, it meant it.
That includes the expanded Canadian Championship, which is Canada’s version of the FA Cup in England and every other national cup competition around the world.
Soccer is organic and the only sport which offers pro teams of all levels a shot at the same trophy — in Canada’s case the Voyageurs Cup — in a side competition that runs parallel to league matches.
Canadian Premier League clubs Pacific FC and Cavalry FC of Calgary open with the first leg of the first round of the Canadian Championship, leading to the Voyageurs Cup, tonight at 7:30 at Westhills Stadium. The second leg is next Wednesday in Calgary.
The PFC-Cavalry winner will advance to the second round against CPL club Forge FC of Hamilton on June 4 and June 12. Forge FC has drawn a first-round bye.
The winner of that second-round set will meet the Whitecaps of Major League Soccer in a home-and-home July 10 and July 24. The Whitecaps and fellow MLS club Montreal Impact enter the competition in the third round. As defending Voyageurs Cup champion, Toronto FC of MLS has a bye into the semifinal stage.
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 pro United Soccer League. The USL’s amateur arm, USL 2, which includes the Victoria Highlanders, is not included.
These domestic cup competitions are famous for their upsets and known for their giant-killing underdogs from lower leagues beating even Premiership sides.
“The regular-season standings mean nothing in cup play,” said Pacific FC head coach Michael Silberbauer.
“It comes down to the day and to the teams who rise to the opportunities on the day.”
Or two days, because the Canadian Championship is played in home-and-home rounds, as is the cup custom in many nations. The set is based on aggregate score over the two games. In the case of a draw, the team with the most away goals will advance.
“The biggest difference from league play is that cup play is over two games, so in some ways, you treat it like a 180-minute game,” said Silberbauer.
The Danish international, capped 25 times including at Euro 2012, won the Danish Cup as a player with FC Copenhagen and said that was a career highlight for him at the club level. Silberbauer would like nothing more than to win the Voyageurs Cup as a coach.
There are also international club cup competitions in soccer, of which the Champions League is the most famous. The parallel yet multi-layered processes can seem bewildering to North American sports fans. For instance, Pacific FC midfielder Ben Fisk played in the Europa Cup last season with Derry City of Ireland.
“Whether it’s league or cup play, you want to win every game,” said Fisk, who internationally, represented Canada in U-20 and and U-23, with two senior national-team caps.
“It’s in our DNA as pro soccer players. Knowing there’s a trophy [Voyageurs] at the end of it, which every team in the country is playing for, makes cup wins mean a bit more,” added Fisk.
“And the two-game format makes getting home results essential in cup play.”
But the first round won’t be easy for PFC against undefeated Cavalry FC, which is 3-0 in the CPL regular season, to Pacific FC’s 1-2-1.
“Cavalry is a strong, physical team that likes to press high,” said Fisk.
PFC will need to find ways to break that press.
It helps that veteran pro and 27-time Canada-capped striker Marcus Haber took part in limited drills Tuesday in PFC training and will be a game-time decision tonight after missing two games due to a toe injury.
The Canadian Championship runs 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.