Cavalry FC coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is a big fan of the Canadian Championship, so much so that he wants to see more teams involved.
The annual competition brings together the top professional clubs from across Canada for the right to hoist the Voyageurs Cup, while also vying to win a berth in the Concacaf Champions League.
The Canadian Championship swelled from six to 13 teams this year with the introduction of the seven Canadian Premier League clubs. Cavalry made history by upsetting the Vancouver Whitecaps in the quarter-finals, becoming the first CPL side to beat an MLS team. The Cavs defeated Pacific FC and Forge FC in the first two rounds of the tournament before eventually bowing out at the hands of the Montreal Impact in the semifinals. Montreal went on to lift the Voyageurs Cup after beating Toronto FC in the final.
Wheeldon was in Toronto this week to attend the CPL’s awards ceremony, where he was named the league’s coach of the year. Speaking to reporters after picking up his honour, Wheeldon explained he’d like to see an expanded format for the Canadian Championship, with amateur and semi-professional teams across the country invited to participate.
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“I’d like more teams in it, actually. I’m a believer (in inviting) the provincial amateur champions into it. I think we look at other leagues … whether it’s the USL, all the Canadian professional and semi-professional (teams),” Wheeldon stated.
“I think we should have a coast to coast, national competition that has early rounds with amateur teams that qualify up to meet the professional teams (in the later rounds).”
Aside from the seven CPL teams and three MLS sides, the 2019 Canadian Championship also featured the Ottawa Fury (from the USL), A.S. Blainville (from Quebec’s semi-pro league) and League1 Ontario’s Vaughan Azzurri. Given that the Fury recently ceased operations, next year’s Canadian Championship will feature 12 teams, as it stands at the moment.
Wheeldon cited the English FA Cup as a model that he feels the Canadian Championship should follow – where amateur and semi-pro teams battle it out in early qualifying rounds for a chance to meet the country’s big pro teams later on in the tournament.
“England does it with the FA Cup, the U.S. does it with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. I think we can adopt it in Canada,” Wheeldon offered.
He later added: “I think that’ll grow the game, then get that all over the media, and that’s when you get everybody to buy in.”