The Amway Canadian Championship begins in a mere month, and to the victor belong the spoils. However, the spoils of winning the Voyageurs Cup is hardly a simple trophy. No, the spoils of that tournament are a place in the CONCACAF Champions League. A place that Vancouver now holds, instead of Montréal, despite the superior record of the Impact in that league against the other Canadian teams. We are Canada's Champions League team - and we lost our chance to even participate until at least 2017.
In my mind, losing the 2015 Amway Canada Cup to the Vancouver Whitecaps was the biggest let down of last season. I can accept that we lost to Club America. I cannot accept that we will not get a chance for a rematch anytime soon. Coach Frank Klopas, in focusing on league play, let the memory of the historic 2015 Cinderella Run in the Champions League go to waste. He lost the Voyageurs Cup, and with it, our chance to play in the Champions League once more.
This is not to say that coaching alone was the problem, or that Vancouver did not deserve the cup. They thoroughly outplayed the Impact in a home-and-away series, and deserved to win. They were after all, the best Canadian team in MLS in 2014, and it showed.
However, the chance to see international glory will soon present itself again. May 11th is the kick-off date for the first round of play in the Amway Canadian Championship in Edmonton. The Ottawa Fury and FC Edmonton will get things started in the first round, before the winner of that series joins the three MLS teams for semi-finals. Each will be looking for a place in the Champions League, now that Montréal has (once again) shown what a presence in the Champions League does for a fan base, and a clubs bottom line.
However, the Amway Canadian Championship is a spectacle that does not draw a very big crowd. The games are on Wednesday nights, and teams rarely play their best players. It can often be a dismal affair, but after watching the games against Alajuelense, Pachuca and Club America, the work is worth the reward. I truly hope the Impact break that trend, and play their starting XI against all opponents.
I do not think it is far-fetched to say that the Voyageurs Cup is the most important trophy the Impact can win this year. It is a frustrating paradox, that a tournament of little importance and value to most fans, carries with it the ticket to the highest level of competition on the continent. That matters to even the most casual of sports fans in the Montréal area - yet so few care about the journey, only the destination.
If the dream of witnessing Champions League soccer in Montréal once more is not incentive enough for fans to show up and demand a performance from their team, then an appeal to history might suffice. The Impact easily have the best record of any Canadian team in the Champions League. They also have the best record of any team competing for the Voyageurs Cup. It's our trophy. We have won it nine times, and won it every year consecutively from 2002 to 2008. The trophy has only been in existence for fourteen years, and for nearly a decade it was in Montréal! That trophy has spent roughly the same amount of time in Montréal as Toronto FC has spent in MLS.
There is not one coach or player in Canadian soccer who understands the importance of this trophy to Montréal more than Mauro Biello. He has won this trophy before, and been involved in three Champions League campaigns because of it. If anyone has a plan to bring that trophy, and the Champions League, back to Montréal once more, it is the man who was there for both the historic upset of Toronto FC in 2008, and the loss against Vancouver in 2015. Understanding what went into both events will be critical. There is not a man more suited to that task than Mauro.
Certainly our play in domestic competition might suffer during the month of June, if we focus on winning this tournament. Although, if it means that the world will once again descend on Montréal for another shot at the Champions League - that is a price I think the Impact front office should be willing to pay. As a fan, I certainly am.
The Impact will play Toronto FC on June 1st and again on June 8th in the semi-final leg of the Amway Canadian Championship.