A Canadian Open Cup?

It may be time to expand Canada's Championship

With the Ottawa Fury FC set to join the NASL in 2014, the Amway Canadian Championship will expand to 5 teams. To accomodate the additional team, the CSA announced there will be playoff series between the two NASL teams before the winner faces MLS competition. However, the CSA acknowledges this is a stop-gap measure until it figures out the future of this competition.

This brings up the question: is the time coming for Canada to have a truly open cup? If so, what should it look like?

Certainly an open up would bring a new level of excitement to the competition and would be an opportunity to grow the game in smaller markets when professional teams come to visit. The possibility of having our own minnows perform "Giant-Killings" like Cal FC did against the Portland Timbers is something that is still missing from our own competition (though FC Edmonton came close in the first leg against Vancouver). With the game getting more organized at the lower levels, now seems like the right time to expand the competition.

How should it expand though? Much of this depends on what league Canadian teams are playing in. A new Canadian Division III level league would change everything, but for the purpose of this article let's assume a picture that more or less resembles the current one.

In 2014, there will be 3 Division I (MLS) and 2 Division II (NASL) teams. If our open cup is to work like those around the world, all professional teams should automatically be entered into the competition. There are also 8 amateur or semi-pro PDL teams, including WSA Winnipeg. Then there's the hundreds of amateur/semi-pro teams across the country that compete for the Challenge Trophy. How should we integrate all these lower-level teams into the competition?

First, we need think about how many games we want teams to play in this competition. This is certainly an issue for the professional teams that play upwards of 30 games each season. Currently, the Voyageurs Cup winner must play a minimum of 4 games. Last year, Sporting Kansas City had to play 5 games. In England it's 6 and in Spain it's 9. With geography and a short summer calendar, I think we should aim for no more than 6.

Then we have to look at what match ups we want. In order to grow the game, the best scenario is to have a PDL or amateur team host an MLS team. It will be a boon to the smaller side, the converse will not. We also don't want teams of the same level playing each other in the first round. Then there is the question of seeding teams based on performance or selecting opponents randomly. With a larger competition and the interesting match ups it produces, I think a draw should be used.

Given all that, here is my proposed open Canadian Championship:

  • 3 MLS Teams
  • 2 NASL Teams
  • 2 Regional PDL Winners
  • 1 CSA Challenge Trophy Winner
  • Match ups would be selected by draw. The top 4 teams would be in Pot A, the bottom 4 in Pot B. 
  • The first round would be a single match hosted by the Pot B team. If the two NASL teams are drawn together, the Pot A team would host
  • All remaining rounds would be home-and-away aggregate series

The PDL teams could qualify in several ways. In the west, you would have the Victoria Highlanders, Fraser Valley Mariners, WSA Winnipeg and Thunder Bay Chill. (The Whitecaps Residency would be excluded from the competition, much like Real Madrid B are from the Copa del Rey.) In the east, you would have FC London, K-W United and Toronto Lynx. Since many of these teams compete against each other in the PDL, their qualification could be done based on their PDL performance as a cost-saving measure. Another way would be to organize a national PDL tournament where the finalists get to compete in the Canadian Championship.

By no means is this a perfect solution, but I believe it is a feasible one. It would bring intriguing match ups, the possibility of "Giant-killings" and opportunities to help grow the game outside of the Big 3.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.