This Wednesday, the Vancouver Whitecaps will kick off their 2019 Canadian Championship campaign, as they start things off against Canadian Premier League side Cavalry FC. Having won this competition for the first time ever back in 2015, Vancouver will be hungry to do so again, after having lived through 3 years of heartbreak, including a stunning last minute loss in 2016 that denied them a repeat-triumph.
This tournament is a very special edition, as it is the first time CPL teams get to participate, as they’re in the midst of their inaugural campaign. While the format is quite flawed for now, it still provides a great opportunity for these teams to test themselves out against a higher calibre of competition, and improves the quality of play overall, as the addition of 7 teams can only be seen as a positive considering the many years with only 3-5 teams competing for the Canadian crown.
For the Whitecaps, it gives them a chance to bounce back after what was a tough 6-1 result down in LA (read all about it here ), playing an opponent in what is a supposedly inferior league. But, despite that notion, the Caps are downplaying that impact it will have, as they know this competition can provide upsets.
“They’re doing well in the CPL” coach Marc Dos Santos noted before training Monday. “They’re motivated, for them they have nothing to lose and everything to gain”
Having won the trophy before, Dos Santos is well familiar with the process for those lower division teams, as he won it with Montreal back when they were down in USL, before they joined the MLS a few years later.
“In 2008 and 2009 when I was with Montreal and we were a second division team back then, we won the Canadian Championship” Dos Santos said. “Being a second division team (and qualify for) the Champions League, it meant a lot, so I understand a lot of these teams are excited about the opportunity to showcase themselves”
That Champions League qualification spot is a huge part of the equation for this competition, as winning is currently the only way for a Canadian MLS team to enter, due to the MLS only allocating their 3 league-based spots to American teams. It ratchets up the importance of the tournament, as qualification is a pretty big deal, something not lost on goalkeeper Max Crepeau.
“The First game in Calgary is the first step to CONCACAF (Champions League)” Crepeau said on Monday. “The first process (starts with) that game, the game is important, (The Canadian Championship) its a goal the club has focused on, and it’s the entry to the CONCACAF”
Dos Santos is of the same mindset, as he understands how big of a deal CONCACAF Champions League is for the club and fans alike.
“We want to be in it every year” Dos Santos said of the Champions League.”We want to allow our fans to experience with us the Champions League, and the best opportunity we have is through the Canadian Championship”
Qualifying to the Champions League is important for the Caps in other ways, ones that Dos Santos did not touch on in his presser. Firstly, it will boost the global profile of the club, allowing for them to attract more top talent, giving them a leg up on recruitment. Secondly, it will give them important prize and gate money, aiding their bottom line. Lastly, it gives more games to a competitive bunch of players, giving a chance for experience and young players alike to chase continiential glory, while getting a chance to play with some of North America’s finest.
But, as important a goal as it is for the club, the players are focused on taking things one game at a time, and that starts with Cavalry on Wednesday.
“It’s not going to be easy” Midfielder Russell Teibert reaffirmed of the match. “It’s not going to be a walk in the park to get there, it’s going to be a hard climb, and it starts with this trip to Calgary”
“The Canadian Premier League is a growing league, and there’s a lot of experienced players playing in that league, and a lot of talented young players”
The beauty of cup competition is that every team has a chance, so ensuring a strong mentality persists is key to have any chance to advance. With it being smack right in the middle of the season, teams have to adjust to going from a normal weekend match to an important tournament knockout game just like that. Wednesday is the Caps first opportunity to feel that, and Crepeau is ready for it.
“We have to treat it like a final” Crepeau stated. “Every game is a final, you see it in other countries; anything can happen, and we’ve seen it in the past here as well, we need to be prepared for everything and come home with the lead”
To assure that, the Caps are going to have to bring their A-game. While every player on the roster surely knows the importance that a cup game has, it’s going to be up to the Candian players, 3 of which must start the match (in line with the tournament regulations), to set the tempo and show their teammates and the other team what these games are going to be like.
Star defender Doneil Henry would love to play that role for Vancouver, as he has a tough no-nonsense attitude that can lend itself well to this kind of game, and he knows exactly what to expect from this kind of encounter.
“What we cannot do is to go there with the mindset that it’s going to be handed to us” Henry said Monday, as he talked about the encounter. “Every Canadian derby match is going to be gritty, it’s (going to be) tough, so we’re looking forward to a battle, even before the game starts”
So make sure to keep your eyes peeled Wednesday, when the quarter-final round kicks off for all teams. While the format is inherently flawed, with last years champions earning a bye until the next round and some CPL teams having played two rounds already, cup competitions are always magical, so there should not be a single dull moment in this one.
This tournament will be huge for Vancouver, with their season threatening to fall off the rails soon, so it will definitely be interesting to see how everything turns out for them in the end. With Cavalry winning the Spring Season in CPL, they did not draw an easy hand for this showdown, so they will be taking things extra seriously come Wednesday.
Vancouver will train one more time before flying out to Calgary, where they play Wednesday at 6:30. It’s a busy stretch for Vancouver, with playoffs fading further and further away, we will get a true indicator of where this Whitecaps team is at. Until then Dos Santos will be ensuring his troops are all-in.
“This (tournament) will always be important and will always be a priority” Dos Santos finished. “Doesn’t mean we are gonna win the cup, that’s another story, but are we going to go all-in to try and do it? Yes”
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Cavalry FC, Wednesday July 10th, 2019, 18:30 PST, Spruce Meadows (Calgary)
Match Preview to come