Canadian Flavour: Analyzing MLS’s ‘Phase 1’ plan, CSA’s 2020 Canadian Championship format for Vancouver Whitecaps

On Thursday, the MLS announced their ‘Phase 1’ plan for Canadian MLS teams, while Canada Soccer announced its plan for the 2020 Canadian Championship. In this, we look at the details of both announcements, and what this all means for the Vancouver Whitecaps. 

There will be MLS games in Canada this season. 

After seeing the MLS move down to Florida during the last month for their ‘MLS is Back’ tournament, the league is slowly returning to their home markets for a league restart, of which they’ve slowly rolled out the plan for this past week. 

For Canadian teams, their future has now been clarified, as their ‘Phase 1’ schedule was released on Thursday, after the American teams ‘Phase 1’ plan was announced a week prior. 

Now, those 3 Canadian MLS teams, the Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact, will play each other 3 times each, for a total of 6 games, all of which will be counted towards the MLS’s regular-season table. 

As an added wrinkle, all of those games will also count towards the Canadian Championship, with the best team after those 6 games moving onto the final of that competition, in which they’ll play the champion of the Canadian Premier League’s ‘Island Games’, their restart tournament which gets underway in Charlottetown, P.E.I this week.

So now, all of a sudden, both the MLS’s and CPL’s Canadian teams will have added incentive to compete during their respective restarts, as a Canadian Championship victory would grant the winner a Voyageurs Cup trophy and CONCACAF Champions League spot in one quick swoop. 

It’ll be a fun few weeks of Canadian Soccer, as a result of this, with there plenty to watch in both the MLS’s ‘Phase 1’ return, along with the CPL’s ‘Island Games’. 

After a quiet spring without soccer, this summer is delivering up several tasty matches to enjoy, with that continuing on into September and beyond, as well. 

MLS’s Phase 1 return:

For the 3 Canadian MLS teams, the Whitecaps, TFC and the Impact, they’ll get real familiar with one another over the next few weeks, thanks to this phase 1 schedule. 

In this plan, each team will play 3 times away and 3 times at home, for a total of 6 games, which will be added to their 2020 regular season tally, which after playing 2 games each back in March, along with 3 games during the MLS is Back group stages, will put them at 11 games total when this is all over. 

Obviously, with things being as they are, this format isn’t completely balanced, as each team will 2 away games against one team and only one away game against the other, and vice versa at home. 

With no fans expected to be allowed at either venue (TFC has confirmed they won’t have fans, Vancouver’s unlikely to have any based on health care regulations, while Montreal has yet to say), that does remove some part of the home-field advantage, however, which allows the format to have these sorts of imbalances.

On the flip side, there is also the turf question to ponder, as the Whitecaps play at BC Place on artificial grass, whereas both TFC and the Impact play on real grass, making it a disadvantage for Montreal, who will play at BC Place twice, compared to TFC, who will only play there once. 

Aside from that, however, it’s a pretty balanced plan, one that’ll allow Canadian teams to play each other in their home markets, something that they’ll lose the luxury of doing in ‘Phase 2’ when they’ll have to travel to the US and set up shop in a city there for a month or two. 

For longtime Canadian soccer fans, it’ll be a throwback to the past, as well, at least for those familiar with the old Canadian championship format. 

Back in the years 2008-2010, the Whitecaps, TFC and the Impact played each other home-and-away in a 4 game round robin format, with the group winner lifting the Voyageurs Cup. 

Even though these games are going to be played as part of MLS competition, it is also a throwback to that format for the 2020 Canadian Championship, in a sense, as the team with the most points from the 6 games will move onto the final of this year’s tournament, which will be played later this year. 

But aside from that, it’ll be a big opportunity for the Canadian teams to one-up each other in an official format, after they all bowed out during the Round of 16 at MLS is Back, all within 24 hours of each other. 

As defending Voyageurs Cup champions, the Impact will be the ones to watch, but considering that their opponents in that match, TFC, went all the way to the MLS Cup final in 2019, they’ll have a bone to pick as well. 

The Whitecaps, who have only won the Voyageurs Cup once in 18 tries, will look to avenge themselves after a rough 2019, in which they were eliminated from the Canadian Championship in the Quarter-Finals by first-year CPL side, Cavalry FC, during a dark season in which they finished last in the Western Conference in MLS play. 

So with all of that recent MLS and Voyageurs Cup history in mind, here is how the 9 game schedule will line up for all 3 teams during this tournament. 

Game #1: Toronto FC host Vancouver Whitecaps, Tuesday, August 18th, 2020, 20h00 EST/17h00 PST

Game #2: Toronto FC host Vancouver Whitecaps, Friday, August 21st, 2020, 20h00 EST/17h00 PST

Game #3: Montreal Impact host Vancouver Whitecaps, Tuesday, August 25th, 2020, 20h00 EST/17h00 PST

Game #4: Montreal Impact host Toronto FC, Friday, August 28th, 2020, 20h00 EST/17h00 PST

Game #5: Toronto FC host Montreal Impact, Tuesday, September 1st, 2020, 20h00 EST/17h00 PST

Game #6: Vancouver Whitecaps host Toronto FC, Saturday, September 5th, 2020, 21h30 EST/18h30 PST

Game #7: Montreal Impact host Toronto FC, Wednesday, September 9th, 2020, 20h00 EST/17h00 PST

Game #8: Vancouver Whitecaps host Montreal Impact, Sunday, September 13th, 2020, 21h30 EST/18h30 PST

Game #9: Vancouver Whitecaps host Montreal Impact, Wednesday, September 16th, 2020, 21h30 EST/18h30 PST

Voyageurs Cup news big for MLS, CPL teams:

No doubt, this Voyageurs Cup news is big for all teams involved, especially the CPL ones, who will have added incentive to win the ‘Island Games’ now. 

On top of the chance to hoist the ‘North Star Shield’, earning a CONCACAF League spot in the process, they’ll also have the chance to take on an MLS team in a one-game series, with a CONCACAF Champions League spot on the line. 

As we saw last year, CPL teams can trouble MLS outfits, so whoever ends up being the winner of the ‘Island Games’ will feel confident about their chances in this one-off game. 

Meanwhile, for the MLS teams, this is an equally as big opportunity. While for CPL teams playing in the Champions League would be a fun adventure, for some of the MLS teams it’s a big deal if they miss out, as it can help them recruit talent and build their brand for the seasons ahead. 

So this one-off final has the potential to be very interesting. Considering that the winner of the ‘Island Games’ will have had 11 games of competitive soccer under their belt over a month and a half, while the MLS team will have had a similar output of games in a similar time period, both teams will be fit and rearing to go. 

Along with the incentive that lifting a trophy and qualifying for qualification to a continental championship can provide to a team, there’s no doubt that this Voyageurs Cup final is going to be a great one. 

While the MLS and CPL teams were unlikely to rotate much in their games, it’ll certainly make them want to go for it even more than they do now, which should ramp up the quality of games in both competitions. 

Which if you’re a fan of a CPL or a Canadian MLS team, should be an exciting prospect, as there will be some exciting games on tap during this frenzy of footballing action that awaits everyone over the next 6 weeks.

What does this mean for the Whitecaps?

Leonard Owusu looks on during a game at MLS is Back (Matthew Stith/MLS)

For the Whitecaps, it’ll be an interesting to see what happens to them now, as they’ve got a lot of questions to answer ahead of this restart, which gets going in less than a week now for them. 

From a roster perspective, it’ll be intriguing to see who ends up being available to them, especially after getting ravaged by injuries at MLS is Back down in Orlando. 

Maxime Crepeau is unlikely to be fit, leaving Thomas Hasal to hold the fort in the ‘Caps goal, while Janio Bikel, Erik Godoy, David Milinkovic and Jasser Khmiri are all questionable ahead of these games. 

Hwang In Beom is an unknown at this point, as he finds himself in the midst of a transfer saga, one that could see him gone before the ‘Caps even kick-off against TFC on the 18th. 

Elsewhere, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Lucas Cavallini, Fredy Montero and Andy Rose, who opted out of MLS is Back, along with Tosaint Ricketts, who missed out because of health reasons, and Georges Mukumbilwa, who had visa problems. 

Rose should be available, as he was going to play in Orlando before a scheduling delay conflicted with the upcoming birth of his 2nd child, which he elected to stay back for, as well as Mukumbilwa, whose visa issue prohibited him from travelling to the US, but not within Canada. 

Ricketts is an unknown at this point, but given that his absence was health-related, you’d expect him to sit this one out, as well. 

As for Cavallini and Montero, however, who opted out for personal reasons, it’ll be interesting to see what they choose to do for this phase of this return. After understandably opting out of travelling to a COVID-riddled Florida in the midst of an outbreak, the prospect of travelling within Canada, a country whose COVID cases are way down compared to the US, might see them return for this phase. 

After seeing that Cavallini has dealt with deaths in the family as a result of this virus, and seeing that both he and Montero have young families at home, it’ll be understandable if they choose to opt-out once again, leaving them to stay with their families, but on the flip side, you do wonder if they’ll change their minds for this restart. 

If the ‘Caps do have their services available, it’ll boost their chances, but if not, it’ll give a chance for the likes of Theo Bair and Ryan Raposo the chance to get more minutes, as they did in Orlando. 

But even if Cavallini and Montero do end up playing, the ‘Caps still have a lot of question marks as a team. They’ve yet to play a game with their full complement of new signings available to them, so no one quite knows what to expect from them going forward. 

Down in Orlando, they showed good resilience and pushback, but they didn’t play always play the high-flying football that they hope to play in the long-term, with their absences forcing them to play more of a snatch-and-grab style of game. 

They found some results in that set-up, so we may see it in some form here, but no doubt that Marc Dos Santos wants this ‘Caps team to be a lot more aggressive in certain areas, especially up front. 

Without Cavallini, who is a relentless presser of the ball, it might be hard, but if he does play, look for the ‘Caps to push up the field higher in search of the ball. 

So all-in-all, it’s tough to project what can happen with these ‘Caps, especially until we see the full scope of their roster. 

With everyone at their disposal, they can certainly get enough points to consider making the Voyageurs Cup final, but if they don’t, it’d be tough to see them snatching results off of TFC and Montreal, who have had their full squads available for weeks now. 

And even if the ‘Caps have everyone, they do need to get used to playing together in a game-like situation, something that Montreal and Toronto’s regulars have had a chance to do with MLS is Back, in which the ‘Caps were quite shorthanded. 

Because of all these factors, it’s hard to project what will happen in these games, but at the very least, you can expect some entertaining matches, especially for the ‘Caps, who have certainly not lagged in the entertainment factor in any of their 2020 matches.  

Looking Forward:

Either way, it’s exciting to finally know what’s going to happen to the Canadian MLS teams, along with the future of the Voyageurs Cup, both of which we learned more about in one big news swoop today. 

Now, it gives us all something to look forward to, starting on August 18th with the Whitecaps clash with TFC, without mentioning the added incentive it adds to the CPL’s ‘Island Games’, which will be underway once this article is published. 

After a tough end to each of their respective MLS is Back tournaments, this will be a good chance for the Canadian teams to show what they can be all about, while also having a chance to stick it to some good rivals. 

As TFC and Montreal both showed when they faced off against each other at MLS is Back, whenever these Canadian MLS teams play each other, exciting things happen, so it’ll be interesting to see what this set of games brings. 

And over on Charlottetown, it’ll be also extra intriguing to see who emerges as ‘Island Games’ champions, knowing that they’ll get a one-game chance to reach the CONCACAF Champions League and lift the Voyageurs Cup, which would be a historic victory on many levels for a young CPL club. 

So stay tuned for the next couple of weeks, as this Canadian Soccer bonanza gets going, starting with the ‘Island Games’ kick off on the 13th, and continuing to the MLS kick off on the 18th. 

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