The current Canadian Championship format adds additional congestion to an already jam-packed MLS schedule, which will inevitably invite indifference to the competition.
It’s that time of year again.
The Amway Canadian Championship will kick off next week and Canada’s top professional clubs - Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and FC Edmonton - will fight for bragging rights and a place in the CONCACAF Champions League.
The Impact will play Toronto over two legs on May 2 and May 9, and if they're able to overcome the Reds they will then play either Vancouver or Edmonton in the two-legged final on May 16 and May 23.
Of course, the Impact will also have MLS games to play during that stretch, which means that if they are fortunate enough to advance to the final, they’ll get to play nine matches in 28 days. Same thing goes for Vancouver, while Toronto would have to play eight.
When asked about the heavy schedule by the media following Monday’s practice, Impact head coach Jesse Marsch voiced his concern over the Canadian Championship format.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Marsch said. “It’s a question of scheduling for the Canadian Cup. I’m not sure that it all needs to be squeezed into one month because it compromises all of the Canadian teams in the Cup and in the league. I’m not sure if they can adjust the format moving forward. but for right now it is what it is”.
The reality is that the way the format is setup as of now, between the CONCACAF Champions League final at the end of April and the beginning of the first round of the next Champions League in the end of July, the teams are booked in just about every Wednesday and therefore it’s impossible to space the games out.
There is, however, one simple solution: changing the qualification format for the Champions League. Instead of having the winner of the Canadian Championship qualify to the Champions League, the Canadian team that finishes with the most points in the MLS season should qualify in its place.
As much as that wouldn’t seem fair for Edmonton, the reality is that the Champions League is for the best teams in the top division – that’s how the competition works for the vast majority of the rest of the world - and Edmonton plays in North America’s second division. Why should Canada be any different?
In this way as well, the Canadian Championship wouldn’t be constrained by the CONCACAF Champions League timeline and could in turn be spaced out anywhere from March to October. This change would also greatly facilitate the inevitable addition of more Canadian professional teams that will want to participate in the near future.
As far as the Impact are concerned, Marsch hinted to the media that he’s set on playing a mostly second tier lineup for the Canadian Championship, though he's confident in the depth of his squad.
“I think there’s going to be a pretty big rotation,” Marsch said. “I think a lot of guys are going to get their chance and we’ve tried hard to emphasize the importance of the reserve league and the importance that everyone puts everything into training, and now we’re going to be tested on what the result of that is.”
Making the MLS postseason is the priority and because the MLS schedules are as hectic as they are, and with the Canadian MLS clubs being as fragile as they are, the Canadian Championship is more of a nuisance than something to look forward to. As much as all three of the MLS teams will want to win the tournament, they will try and do so with the weakest possible lineups and or the least effort.
But who wants that kind of tournament for a national championship?
The Canadian Championship should be an exciting one that features the very best players from the very best Canadian teams, but given the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps' overwhelming program, don’t blame them for a half-hearted effort.Nick Sabetti covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com Canada.