We’re about to find out if the elephant in the room is wearing any clothes.
Pardon the awkwardly mixed metaphor—what I mean is, we’re about to get our first set of concrete answers to a question many have had since the Canadian Premier League’s creation: how will its players and teams stack up against other leagues?
Yes, it’s going to be a wild Wednesday in the Canadian Championship tournament, with third-round matchups pitting HFX Wanderers FC against the Ottawa Fury (United Soccer League Championship), York9 FC against the Montreal Impact (Major League Soccer) and Cavalry FC against the Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS).
The elephant in the room is that all three teams come in with much more history and familiarity than any of the participating CPL clubs, creating an obvious built-in advantage. But should any of them rest too heavily on their laurels, a tournament newcomer could very well alert the self-declared emperors of the shortcomings in their wardrobes.
Who’s got the best shot at advancing?
Only the most gung-ho zealots would suggest all three CPL clubs are primed to pull off a “clean sweep” in this round. The most likely and realistic outcome here is that the next two weeks will provide a steep learning curve for these relatively fresh squads against teams that have competed in this tournament for years.
That being said, only the most gung-ho zealots on the other side of the aisle would suggest that there’s no chance of CPL representation in the Voyageurs Cup semifinals. So, if it’s going to happen, who’s it going to be?
The obvious choice would be Cavalry, the Spring-season champions who’ve won 14 of 16 games in their young existence, dating back to preseason. Coincidentally enough, that very first preseason game was a solid 2-0 win over the Whitecaps’ U-23 squad, back in March.
The Whitecaps, for their part, are slumping into Spruce Meadows on the heels of a 6-1 drubbing in Los Angeles on the weekend and amidst a five-game winless streak stretching back to late May. They’re near the bottom of the MLS Western Conference table and will need a big turnaround over the summer to get back in the playoff race.
Does that recent form leave the ‘Caps ripe for the picking? Or does it give them extra motivation to prove themselves in this tournament and turn their season around?
How much advantage will home provide?
Two-legged ties are sometimes strange things; hosting the second leg is ostensibly the prime position to be in, yet the away-goals rule often has a way of turning things upside down.
Both Y9 and Wanderers do possess distinct advantages when it comes to the location of tonight’s matches—the fans in Halifax definitely bring the atmosphere, while the small field at York Lions Stadium inexorably forces visiting teams to make adjustments. Knowing they’ll be facing an uphill battle in both legs, but especially on the road two weeks from now, it’ll be interesting to see how Wanderers and Y9 approach the first leg on home turf tonight.
Goals haven’t come easily for the Nine Stripes; will they try to choke off the Impact’s chances of nicking an away goal on the tiny turf, and keep their fingers crossed for the return leg? Further east, could we see a more knockdown, drag-out contest from two sides looking to escape the “middle of the pack” in their respective leagues?
What would a championship Battle of Alberta look like?
Insert the record scratch noise here because yes, I’m abruptly pulling away from Voyageurs Cup musing and turning back to CPL league play. But FC Edmonton’s somewhat unexpected victory at Tim Hortons field on Saturday—their fourth straight W in league play—has turned expectations for this Fall season on their head.
With Cavalry having already booked their spot in October’s CPL Championship, one could have assumed the Fall season would be one long march towards crowning Forge FC as their opponent. In relatively short order, however, the Eddies have made it clear that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the next few months.
Sure, Forge could very well pull it all back together and claim the crown. Or, heck, another team entirely could get hot and wriggle themselves into contention for the Fall season title. But what if we do find ourselves with a Calgary vs. Edmonton final?
It may not sit especially well among fans elsewhere in the country, but the sort of excitement created by a championship showdown between provincial rivals is impossible to manufacture or replicate. It would, in my opinion anyway, create the sort of atmosphere that all CPL fans should want for the league’s first-ever title clash, and lay the groundwork for a classic rivalry that will continue indefinitely.
I am, of course, getting way, way ahead of myself here. And it’s highly unlikely the rest of the league’s teams share my sunny outlook about what an all-Alberta final would look like. The next few months are their chance to do something about it.