Roundtable: Today writers from Mount Royal Soccer are joined by Kendra Shannon and Jonathan Bagg of the Stony Monday Riot in Ottawa to discuss the most important question in Canadian soccer right now: Is the Montréal Impact the biggest team in Canada right now? The results are as follows:
Christopher Ralph - Mount Royal Soccer (@pennyforcliche)
Okay, I will play devil's advocate and say yes, for three reasons. Firstly, we have a lot of important titles. We're a team of champions. We won the USL in 2004 and 2009, and the APSL before that in 1994. We've won the Commissioner's Cup 5 times. Our trophy cabinet is loaded with honours, awards and a bottle of fine wine. Great, Vancouver has that too. But secondly, we have found success in places where Vancouver hasn't. The only other club to bring a major international 'superstar' to Canada is probably Toronto, with Defoe, who was a flop and turned into a laughing stock. I would argue that with the MLS drive to acquire American National Team talent, Toronto was just following a trend with Bradley.
We, however, have brought major names to the league in Laurent Ciman and most importantly, Alessandro Nesta. Laurent Ciman plays for the highest ranked FIFA team (Belgium, 3rd) of any MLS player and Nesta was arguably the best central defender the MLS has seen, and a living legend. Thirdly, what truly sets us apart is how many firsts we have. We made the play-offs in only our second year (Toronto still hasn't after 8). Vancouver has made the play-offs, but we have won more Voyageurs Cups than them - and by extension, have gone further in Champions League than any other Canadian team. We are not the 'best' Canadian club, but we are the 'biggest', for right now at least.
Jean-Francois Corbet - Mount Royal Soccer (@JoeCorbet)
For my part the biggest team in Canada is Toronto FC ! No, I'm just kidding. I think the Impact is the team that has proven the most so far. They made the playoffs in 2013 and it was only their second year in the league. For comparison Toronto has not make the autumn dance so far and they are in MLS since 2007. The Whitecaps are a competitive team since a couple of years but they can't manage to Win the BIG games. Montreal had also an early impact in MLS by signing players like Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta as an expansion team. This is serious business.
The difference between Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver is the way the teams performed in the CONCACAF. In 2009 even before they were in MLS, Montreal managed to get in the Quarter Final and lost a heart breaking game against Santos Laguna.
This year the story is even greater since they are now in the final of the Champions League with a chance to go at the Club World Cup and face potential teams like Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. That's the main reason why I think the Impact is the biggest club in Canada so far. But the job is not done yet because they might be the greatest soccer team in Canada, the most important thing for them is to become the second greatest sports team in Montreal. Which is a pretty hard task but with the way tickets are selling right now I think they are on the good way!
John Richan - Mount Royal Soccer (@John_Richan)
It really depends on how one measures this question. All three Canadian MLS teams are still trying to carve out their own path in the MLS, Canadian Championship, and CONCACAF Champions League; and in turn what do these competitions mean to each team. Montreal have been systematically building through both their Academy as well as making quality signings such as Ciman and Piatti without spending a fortune.
The one advantage the Impact do posses is an owner that is passionate about this team and about winning. Winning is everything to Mr. Joey Saputo. It may be hard to call the Impact the biggest club in Canada at this moment because Canadian soccer is still trying to find itself; but with the long term commitment to soccer in Québec the Impact may well be the biggest club in Canada in 5 or 10 years. Defining what it means to be a successful club in Canada is still a work in progress because it has never actually happened before. The 2014-2015 CCL run has helped generate a lot of positive exposure for both Canadian soccer as well as the Impact, an important step to being called the biggest team in Canada.
Jonathan Bagg - Stony Monday Riot (@furyinottawa)
It's really hard to admit that a club other than your own is the biggest (though I can acknowledge that Fury FC is still very young and not close to being as established as the Impact). It would be safe to say that the Impact is the most accomplished in international club competition, and specifically the CONCACAF champions league. That is attracting a lot of attention across Canada and North America and bringing people into the Big-O for some moments that have been/will be historically significant for Canadian soccer. If you look at average attendance in 2014, the Montreal Impact did not have the largest average attendance. So I guess it depends on the measure.
I would also say that Montreal has had a better track record on average compared to most Canadian clubs at engaging its supporter base and the regional culture as well as integrating players and others into training/management set ups and the broader identity of the club. Not to mention it has won a number of Voyageurs Cups and previous-USL championships. I would caveat that with the fact that the club has been at it in various "pro" leagues for longer than most (except for maybe Vancouver). I might also consider it a "bigger" Canadian club if it had more Canadians on the roster.
So long answer short: I don't think Montreal is by default the biggest club by virtue of its immediate performance in the champions league, but I can't fault the club's supporters and fans for thinking it is; they have some valid supporting arguments.
Noah Markowicz - Mount Royal Soccer (@NoahMarkowicz)
No. They are currently the most trending team in the nation, but only a CCL victory would propel them into the stratosphere of popularity among soccer fans in Canada. I liken the Impact to a mid-major NCAA basketball team on a cinderella run to the Final Four. If they win, they'll gain notoriety and fame that will remain entrenched in the minds of Canadians for years. If they lose, they'll be forgotten a lot quicker than you'd think. Vancouver is in my mind still the biggest club, because they've been the most consistently good and exciting team in Canada for the last few years. Montréal has been far from that, but winning the CCL would override all of their recent mediocrity.
Kendra Shannon - Stony Monday Riot and writer with northernstartingeleven (@crookedbeat)
Most talked about? Yes. Most supported? I don't think so.
Right now we are all talking about the Impact's incredible run in the CONCACAF Champions League. First, they were the first Canadian team to make it to the quarter final round. Then, the first Canadian team to make it to the semi-final round. Now, the first Canadian team to make it to the final. So they are making history, yes. But across Canada, people are just starting to take note of the Impact. We could talk about all of the quality players on the team, the long history, and the championships.
But most Canadians don't know any of that. And the main reason for that is simply proximity to the team. Footy fans in the Prairie Provinces, along with Ontario, have long ago pledged their allegiance to Toronto FC. Then the Whitecaps entered the MLS picture and British Columbia has been spoken for. It's FC Edmonton in the NASL for Alberta soccer supporters and our Nations Capital has Ottawa Fury FC. Add to this that FC Edmonton fans (and probably many NASL fans) will not likely forgive the Montreal Impact for how they knocked them out of the Champions League anytime soon.
The dirty play that resulted in a deserving team's ejection from the tournament does not sit well with many. Could FC Edmonton have gotten as far as the Impact have in the later stages? No. But that does not take away from the fact that they deserved a chance to try. And while I am happy to have a Canadian representative side in the CONCACAF Champions League final, it would be nice see some actual Canadians playing. It's an important opportunity for Canadian players to experience the pressure of such an important game and would contribute to their mental, physical and technical development as international players. I believe that integrity in sports is an important part of the game, and for myself and others like me, the Montreal Impact are not a team that I am interested in supporting wholeheartedly.
Sofiane Benzaza- Mount Royal Soccer (@sofianebenzaza)
What is the definition of big? size of support? media coverage? transfer fees paid? intangible aura around the club?
This question sparks a bigger debate about the distinct difference between Canadian Clubs and Canadian soccer in general (Canadian players etc..) but going back to the main question. In the realm of MLS, the Impact has had little impact (pun not intended) on the state of the league compared to Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps and to be honest, TFC has not done much outside spending a lot of money on transfers and salaries.
What the Impact has achieve until now in CONCACAF Champions is probably a one-time thing but what is important is that the club uses that momentum for its MLS adventure (and potential trophy case) instead of living off a dream run to avoid clinging to 2015 the same way it did in 2009.