1 KEY QUESTION for each Canadian Championship match-up in opening round
The battle of the north returns once more, bringing with it the promise of more cup magic.
The 2023 Canadian Championship kicks off tonight on OneSoccer, the biggest edition of the tournament ever as 14 teams and three brand-new entrants highlight this year’s field of contenders. FC Laval of PLSQ, new League 1 B.C. champs TSS Rovers and CPL expansion side Vancouver FC enter the fray, alongside 7 other CPL teams, Vaughan SC of League 1 Ontario, and, of course, the MLS trio of CF Montréal, Toronto FC and current Voyageurs Cup holders, the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Ahead of tonight's opening double-header, here's one key tactical question for each match this week.
Can Vaughan midfield put Montréal under pressure?
For many reasons, CF Montréal hosting Vaughan is arguably one of the best matches in this opening round, as not only does it mark the first time that one of the League 1 Canada teams gets to play an MLS team, but also because Montréal’s recent struggles put them in an interesting spot heading into this game.
Make no mistake – Montréal are the overwhelming favourites in this game... but Vaughan does have a history in this competition, having pushed the Halifax Wanderers to the brink back in 2019. Add to it the fact that Montréal has just one win and six losses in seven games to begin their MLS season, and you have the makings of a potential cup-set right off the bat.
In particular, Montréal have struggled a lot in midfield, as injury trouble for Samuel Piette has put a lot of load on Victor Wanyama’s shoulders, who has seen a rotating cast of midfield partners join him in his team’s 3-4-2-1 set-up.
Until Samuel Piette returns, it feels like it’d make a lot of sense for #CFMTL to try something like this in midfield, when considering profiles— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) April 9, 2023
A lot is being asked of Saliba and Wanyama, while Choinière would probably be better suited to playing deeper than as a #10 pic.twitter.com/Ep77gxsQtZ
Watch out for Vaughan in that area, as this semi-pro outfit still boasts some solid names there, including former CPL-ers Joe Di Chiara, Chris Manella and Dylan Carreiro. Meanwhile, Isaac Bradbury was a midfield standout in U SPORTS for a York University team that has pushed out its fair share of professional players. For Wanyma, and whoever slots beside him – be it Nathan Saliba, Mathieu Choinière or another – they’ll have to be wary of that threat, as Vaughan are a lot better than most semi-pro teams typically are in this area of the field.
Can Laval's defence hold on vs. Forge's sharp attack?
For the second year in a row, a PLSQ team will do battle with Forge, as the 2022 PLSQ regular season champions FC Laval travels to Hamilton to take on the 2022 North Star Shield winners.
There, they’ll have plenty of optimism, as PLSQ teams have historically done pretty well for themselves in the tournament.
In 2018, AS Blainville beat League 1 Ontario side Oakville 3-1 on aggregate and then narrowly lost 2-0 to the Ottawa Fury the next round, then only lost 1-0 to CPL’s York United (then York 9) on aggregate in 2019. Then, as the tournament shifted to single-elimination matches 2021, Blainville fell 2-1 to Halifax on the road, then Mont-Royal Outremont lost 2-0 to Forge in 2022, with the PLSQ teams doing well to compete in both games despite being on the road.
They're going to need to keep that up against a dangerous Forge offence, one that led the CPL in goals last season. With the likes of Tristan Borges, David Choinière, Woobens Pacius, Terran Campbell and Jordan Hamilton in their ranks, they’ve got a lot of dangerous weapons, giving plenty for that Laval defence to deal with in this game.
GOAL 🔨@ForgeFCHamilton STRIKE BACK ⚔️@CPLCavalryFC concede a penalty to Jordan Hamilton, who coolly tucks it home to equalize ❄️#CanPL | 41' | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/P9okcr22wh— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 15, 2023
Therefore, Laval will look to remain defensively solid in this match. In particular, they’ll look to ride their strong defensive form from 2022, as they conceded just 13 goals in 22 regular season PLSQ games, giving them the best defensive record in the league. They then conceded four goals in two playoff games, slipping a bit defensively as they fell 3-1 to Blainville in the final, but as they showed in the regular season, they can be a stingy outfit when they’re at their best.
Can Halifax, Ottawa find killer blow in quick rematch?
The first of three all-CPL matchups on our hands this round, this matchup between Halifax and Ottawa is fascinating on many levels, especially after these two teams met just days ago to kick off their 2023 CPL campaigns.
In that game, Halifax looked great on the ball, just lacking that final ball, while Ottawa had some good moments in transition, just also lacking that final shot or pass on several occasions.
Because of that, it’ll be interesting to see if either team can find that pivotal blow in this game.
For Halifax, it’ll be all about getting their forwards more touches, as Kosi Nwafornso, Massimo Ferrin, Tiago Coimbra, Théo Collomb and Lifumpa Mwandwe can be dangerous in the box, but need more opportunities in the box. The good news is that Halifax has creative players that can get them the ball in Lorenzo Callegari, Aidan Daniels and Wesley Timoteo, who will just have to find that final pass.
GOAL 🌊— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 15, 2023
HERE WE GO, HALIFAX 😎
Zachary Fernandez gets the 1ST GOAL of the 2023 #CanPL season, finishing off a driving run after @HFXWanderersFC won the ball back in midfield vs. @AtletiOttawa ⚽
16' | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE pic.twitter.com/DToxa57H82
As for Ottawa, they’ll look to use their speed in transition, as Jean-Aniel Assi and Gianni Dos Santos got into some dangerous areas in the opening match, but weren’t able to generate good chances for themselves or their teammates. When they did, Ottawa profited, such as when Ollie Bassett scored off an Assi assist, but they’ll look to do that more often than they did, especially when it comes to getting forwards Sam Salter and Malcolm Shaw involved.
Can Vancouver's organized play frustrate York?
It’s a first-ever Canadian Championship matchup for the CPL’s newest expansion side, Vancouver FC, as they travel out east to take on York.
There, there will be a lot to watch out for, as these were the only two teams to lose on CPL’s opening day, as Vancouver fell 1-0 on the road to Pacific, while York fell 2-0 at home to Valour.
Because of that, Vancouver will feel confident in their abilities to grab something out of this game, as they managed to frustrate a very good Pacific side for a good chunk of that game, whereas this York side showed some weaknesses in their opener.
In particular, York was very vulnerable in transition, something that Vancouver will thrive in, as they showed in flashes there despite going up against Pacific’s solid defence. Vancouver will have to be wary of York’s offence, as they looked very dangerous in the final third once they found their legs against Valour, but if they can hold that off, they’ll have to feel that they can get some joy as they chase a first goal as a club.
Therefore, look for Vancouver attackers Gabriel Bitar, Emmanuel Robe, Shaan Hundal and Ameer Kinani to be more involved in this game, while someone like Nicky Gyimah could be a valuable asset in transition. As for York, they’ll look to pick the lock in Vancouver’s defence, something that the duo of Mo Babouli and Osaze De Rosario will be crucial towards doing.
Can TSS Rovers' offence put Valour under pressure?
In the game of this matchday, TSS Rovers are hosting Valour, giving the chance for Canada’s first supporters-own club to show what they’re all about on and off the field in what’s expected to be a special night in front of a raucous crowd at the historic Swangard Stadium.
The first-ever match for a League 1 BC team in this competition, they’ve got their hands full with Valour, however, as they looked excellent in their opening match of CPL action this past weekend.
GOAL 🎖️🎖️@ValourFootball go up 2-0 over @yorkutdfc with back-to-back goals, as Anthony Novak finishes coolly off another great cross#CanPL | 55' | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE pic.twitter.com/UgJxxCrKF7— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 16, 2023
Yet, despite that, the Rovers will have some areas they’ll look to exploit. Namely, they’ll look at how York really put Valour’s defence under pressure in the last 10 minutes of their game, as it took every inch of willpower from Valour to keep a clean sheet in that game, something that the Rovers will have certainly taken note of.
Given that they’ve got former CPL champion Matteo Polisi in attack, while Erik Edwardson, Connor MacMillan and Massud Habibullah were all dangerous attacking options in League 1 BC last year, they’ll feel that they’ve got the firepower to give Valour some trouble.
As a result, that’s going to put a lot of pressure on likely Valour centre backs Guillaume Pianelli, Abdou Samaké and Matthew Chandler, as well as goalkeeper Rayane Yesli, who will want to build off the clean sheet from the first match.
Will Cavalry's flexibility cause problems for Pacific?
Lastly, there’s the lone match that’ll be played on Thursday this week, as Pacific hosts Cavalry in a fun rematch from the 2021 quarter-final between these two sides, where Pacific grabbed a key 1-0 win on the road to book a date with Toronto FC in the semi-final.
This time around, the fixture will be played on Vancouver Island, but the stakes are similar, as the draw is looking favourable for both teams, who would avoid any MLS sides until the semi-final, and would play their next two games at home.
Safe to say, that puts a lot of stakes on this game. There, Pacific will look to build off their opening day BC Derby win, while Cavalry will feel happy that they got a point off of Forge on the road.
In particular, there will be one thing to watch out for - Cavalry’s tactical flexibility, as they were quite fluid in their identity against Forge, doing well to cause problems on both sides of the ball.
GOAL 🏇@CPLCavalryFC STRIKE FIRST 🎯@ForgeFCHamilton are left stunned as Myer Bevan slips in behind to tuck home Ali Musse's cross 🤙#CanPL | 36' | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE pic.twitter.com/W8DKCmQlJH— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 15, 2023
So for Pacific, they’ll look to try and dictate the play, both in possession and without the ball, as Cavalry could get a lot more comfortable than most teams typically tend to get at Starlight Stadium.
As a result, that’ll put a lot of pressure on the midfielders from both teams to control proceedings. For Pacific, that’s Manny Aparicio, Sean Young and Cédric Toussaint, while for Cavalry it’ll be Shamit Shome, Jesse Daley and Charlie Trafford, although Trafford did pick up a knock on the weekend.
Whichever team can do that should be able to stamp out their influence on the game, thus gaining a huge advantage on both sides of the ball, which would go a long way towards grabbing a result.