Three-time champion Toronto has struggled mightily in MLS, while Vancouver and Montreal are stronger than ever. Second division FC Edmonton will be looking to grab a scalp or two.It's that time of year again!
Canadian soccer fans from Vancouver to Montreal and all points in between will shift their focus from league play to the Amway Canadian Championship, which will crown one of the country's four professional clubs - FC Edmonton of the NASL, and MLS trio Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps - as the winner of the Voyageurs Cup and Canada's representative at the 2012/13 CONCACAF Champions League.
This year's Canadian Championship appears to be much harder to predict than previous editions. Of the four tournaments played since the Canadian Champoinship debuted in 2008, Toronto has won three, largely because of the talent gap between MLS and the second division.
The Reds had the advantage of being the only Major League Soccer team in the competition for the first three years, and, apart from a dubious inaugural tournament in which TFC fell to the then second-division Impact, Toronto has come out on top in each edition as expected.
This season has been one of extreme adversity for the Reds, and Aron Winter's side will be looking for some positive results in the Canadian Championship not only for another shot at the Champions League, but also to kickstart a horrible league campaign.
For Canada's second MLS side, this year's competition represents perhaps the greatest chance at national supremacy. The Vancouver Whitecaps were bridesmaids last year, having fell to Toronto after an ill-timed thunderstorm wiped out what looked to be a sure-fire championship win.
Vancouver has had a turbulent past in the tournament as a second division side as well, most notably in 2009 when the 'Caps had seemingly wrapped up what was then a round robin competition, only to watch in horror as Toronto pulled off a stunning 6-1 win in Montreal on the final matchday to win on goal differential.
With history providing negative emotions and with the best league record out of the three MLS sides, the Whitecaps have to fancy themselves as favourties to hoist the Voyageurs Cup - for the first time - when the competition wraps up at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, Major League Soccer's newest Canadian team has a unique history of being the most frequent holder of the Voyageurs Cup. Montreal has lifted the trophy seven times, with six of those coming when the Cup was awarded informally to the country's highest point-earner in the old USL-1.
Most impressively, the Impact won the first official Canadian Championship in 2008, managing to edge out heavily favoured TFC and moving on to a fairy tale run to the Champions League quarterfinal.
Montreal will be looking to make full use of the bigger salaries and larger fanbase that comes with the step up to MLS in order to capture its first Canadian Championship as a top-flight club.
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While the bigger cities get all the media attention, plucky second division side FC Edmonton heads into its second Canadian Championship aiming for a more modest goal: finding the back of the net.
The Eddies were blanked 3-0 and 1-0 in their two matches with Toronto last year, and the Alberta side will be looking to score its first goal in the competition when it meets Vancouver in the two-legged semifinal.
Edmonton will, of course, be aiming higher than merely scoring a single goal, but the odds are heavily stacked against the lone NASL club in the competition. FCE has the distinction of being the most Canadian out of the four participating sides, having registered 17 players from this country for the tournament.
Maybe national pride will boost the Eddies to an unlikely run through the tournament?
Rudi Schuller is the Chief Editor of Goal.com Canada.