On Wednesday night, Toronto FC begins its campaign to repeat as Canadian Champions against the Montreal Impact at BMO Field. Soccer can be a confusing sport for those used to North America style seasons as teams compete in multiple tournaments and championships concurrently. TFC became the Canadian Champions last year in dramatic style with a victory over Montreal last year in La Belle Province 6-1 to edge out Vancouver on goal differential. In what was a legendary win for TFC and their supporters, it was a match that created a heated rivarly between Vancouver and Montreal supporters with the claim that the Impact threw the game by resting players in advance of their USL match later that week. TFC flamed out in the next round of the CONCACAF Champions League.
To understand the significance of tomorrow's match, here is a Toronto FC primer Elvis wrote about a year ago. Enjoy!
Football clubs exist to win trophies – lots and lots of trophies. Football is unique in the sense that there are multiple tournaments and competitions happening concurrently.
Let’s look at Toronto FC and try and make sense of the different trophies they can win.
Toronto FC plays 30 matches in league play, competing for the Supporters' Shield, which would be the same as the NHL’s President’s Trophy. While this is generally seen as the kiss of death in the NHL come playoff time, the Supporters’ Shield, awarded to the best team in the league, is very prestigious. To be the best in the league over the course of 30 games is viewed to be, at least, on par with winning the playoffs. To contrast, in England, to win the Premiership (their President’s Trophy) is more coveted than winning the FA Cup (their Stanley Cup). You’d ideally want to win both but if given the choice, most Supporters and Clubs would choose the Premiership. The MLS, being North American, isn’t quite at that point (yet) so winning the playoffs is still the biggest trophy to win. The MLS Cup (the Stanley Cup, the FA Cup) is a one match championship to crown the winner of the playoffs at a neutral site.
So, we’re at two trophies – the MLS Cup and the Supporter’s Shield.
TFC also competes in the Trillium Cup – a (made-up) competition between the Columbus Crew and TFC during the regular season. No additional matches are played – the Trillium Cup is awarded to the winner of the regular season series (3 matches) of the two clubs.
Phew, that’s three trophies up for grabs now.
That brings us to the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, otherwise known as the Voyageur’s Cup. The Voyageur’s Cup was created in 2002 by the Voyageurs, a Canadian Supporter Club which was founded in 1996. Recognising a need for a national championship in Canada, the Voyageur’s Cup was awarded to the best Canadian team in the USL, the only professional soccer league in Canada until the MLS arrived in Toronto three years ago. The winners of the Cup were the Montreal Impact, through no additional tournament or games were played but was based on the fact that they finished ahead of the Toronto Lynx, Vancouver Whitecaps, Calgary Storm/Mustangs and the Edmonton Aviators in the USL. The Impact won every Voyageur’s Cup to 2007 – that’s an impressive 6-0.
In 2007, the CSA decided, with the addition of a high profile professional club in Canada, it was time for a tournament. The USL’s Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and the MLS’ Toronto FC compete in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship during the months of May and June. These games happen outside of each of their respective leagues and thus, have usually occurred on Wednesday evenings. The winner of the inaugural Nutrilite Canadian Championship was the Montreal Impact with 7 points out of a possible 12. TFC ended up with 5 points and Vancouver had 4. This was considered to be a huge upset as MLS is regarded to be a skill level above the USL. This format will remain in place for 2009 and 2010 and then re-negotiated – they may or may not expand the teams involved.
Ok, now that’s four. Supporter’s Shield, MLS Cup, Trillium Cup & Voyageur’s Cup. With me still?
Depending on where Toronto FC finishes in the table during the regular season, they could qualify for the Superliga competition. Superliga puts the best clubs in Mexico against the best clubs from MLS. To qualify, Toronto FC must finish in top four of the table. This is different than the qualification rules for their US counterparts as MLS has changed the rules for qualification to the CONCACAF Champions League wherein teams cannot compete for both the Superliga and Champions League trophies. So, much like the UEFA Cup ranks below the UEFA Champions League in prestige, the same applies here for the Superliga and Champions League.
Wait a minute, what’s the CONCACAF Champions League? This is a 24 club, super Championship made up of clubs from North and Central America and the Caribbean. From North America, four clubs qualify from Mexico, four clubs from MLS and 1 club from Canada.
How does the Canadian club qualify differently from the US clubs? The winner of the Voyageur’s Cup is automatically entered into the CONCACAF Champions League.
We’re up to six trophies - Supporter’s Shield, MLS Cup, Trillium Cup, Voyageur’s Cup, Superliga and Champions League.
Finally, if Toronto FC wins the CONCACAF Champions League, they are entered into the FIFA Club World Cup which takes place in Japan.
Seven trophies over a 12 month span for Toronto FC – at times you might need a map to figure out what match means what but the beauty of it is that there is no one way to measure success of your football club. What a beautiful game.