An all-Canadian Premier League round of Canadian Championship action has come to an end, with HFX Wanderers FC, York9 FC, and Cavalry FC getting the better of Valour, FC Edmonton, and Forge respectively and advancing to take on new opponents from MLS and the USL.
These two-legged bouts don’t have any bearings on the CPL regular season standings, of course – but you can be sure that bragging rights will still be garnered for those three clubs who have moved on to Qualifying Round 3, where the Ottawa Fury, Montreal Impact, and Vancouver Whitecaps await.
Let’s take a look back on these last two weeks of CanChamp play, shall we?
3. Rest = rust? Looks like it
Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said, earlier in the year, that “too much rest creates rust” – having had to go through the first Qualifying Round of the tournament, despite three CPL outfits earning a bye straight into the 2nd round.
Those three outfits? Valour FC, FC Edmonton, and Forge FC, the three teams that were eliminated in the Canadian Championship’s QR2, by the very teams who fought and clawed their way past the likes of A.S. Blainville, Vaughan Azzurri, and Pacific FC in the first round.
HFX Wanderers FC’s victory over Valour was a perfect example of why the team with positive momentum can overcome what may be a better side on-paper; Valour out-possessed HFX over two legs, but the Wanderers’ sharpness in front of goal, honed, perhaps, through a tight-scoring affair against Vaughan, allowed Stephen Hart’s side to be more clinical when it counted. Maybe that doesn’t happen if HFX goes straight into the second round of the contest.
Conversely, Valour could perhaps have benefited from an early round of action, as Rob Gale’s side had plenty of sniffs around the box, but couldn’t convert that positive pressure into goals … or very many shots, either.
So, call it the magic of the Cup, or just a statistical coincidence, but however it’s labeled, the end result remains the same; Cavalry, HFX, and York9 carried their momentum into the third round of this year’s Battle of the North. Snow, sleet, and rain may be staples of Spruce Meadows, Wanderers Grounds, and York Lions Stadium in these early goings, but there’s no sign of rust at Cavalry, HFX, or York9.
2. The 401 Derby … via the 407?
It’s Ontario vs. Quebec once again for York9 FC, as the York Region-based outfit is set to traverse eastbound on Highway 401 to meet the Montreal Impact in the third round of Canadian Championship play. For Y9 head coach Jimmy Brennan, who has suited up as captain and as assistant coach of Toronto FC, this particular road trip is all-too-familiar.
“Look…,” Brennan begins, when asked after his team’s victory over FC Edmonton about his next opponent in Montreal. “…they’re a club I’ve had an awful lot of games against. They were big rivals when I was a player, and there’s no difference now. York9, we’ll have a good rivalry with them as well. They’re not going to welcome us at their stadium, and we’ll be the same.”
Them’s fightin’ words if we’ve ever heard ’em.
Brennan’s right – this won’t be a friendly bout. It never is, when a team from Ontario takes on a team from Quebec, as York9 already experienced in the first round of the competition against A.S. Blainville. Nine Stripes captain Manny Aparicio figures it’ll be a “huge game for everyone in our team, our club, and the whole league” – and he’s right.
Despite the rivalry, Brennan sums up the sentiment succinctly enough: “It’s going to be a great test, a great match, and we’re looking forward to it.”
1. The Whitecaps connection
There will be something resembling a family reunion when Cavalry heads to B.C. Place to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 24 – many of Wheeldon Jr.’s players once suited up for the Vancouver-based outfit, after all. The connections run deep between the two, with Marco Carducci, Mason Trafford, Elijah Adekugbe, Dominick Zator, and Chris Serban, as well as assistant coach Martin Nash, all coming through the Whitecaps system.
But you can bet there will be no love lost when those 90 minutes of football are being played. The Whitecaps are arguably the strongest team on paper in QR3, while Cavalry represents the CPL’s best chance at advancing into the later stages, based on current form and overall quality. It makes for something of a Goliath vs. Goliath clash, though Cavalry will very much be the underdogs against a formidable Whitecaps outfit.