CANCHAMP ROUND-UP: TSS Rovers highlight top storylines from entertaining preliminary round
The Canadian Championship was back with a bang this week, delivering an unprecedented six preliminary round matches, kicking off the biggest edition of the tournament yet.
Now, having seen 12 teams enter at this stage, eager to join the two finalists from last year, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC, in the next round, six have now made it through to join them, leaving eight teams on the journey to lift the Voyageurs Cup.
And if this round is to have been any indication, the ride there should be a good one. After a round that had a historic cupset, some first-time winners and a bit of revenge, that has only set the table nicely for the rounds to come, starting with the quarter-finals, where four intriguing matchups now await.
Before looking ahead to that, however, here’s a look back at this preliminary round, and what stood out from the six games that were played in a three-day span this past week.
CF Montréal avoids upset vs Vaughan:
In the first-ever matchup between a League 1 Canada side and an MLS side, there were plenty of eyeballs on this clash, as CF Montréal hosted 2022 League 1 Ontario champions Vaughan SC at Stade Saputo.
Given that Vaughan had a team loaded with CPL experience, headlined by Joe Di Chiara, Chris Manella, Klaidi Cela and Nyal Higgins, among others, it was always going to be an intriguing matchup to see how well they’d keep up, especially against a Montréal side struggling in MLS play.
Despite that, however, Montréal ended up cruising to a 2-0 victory, even with a decently rotated squad, as they showed their quality with two well-taken first-half goals from Sean Rea and Sunusi Ibrahim.
At the same time, there was plenty for Vaughan to be proud of, as they had moments where they certainly held their own, and had they finished some chances that they did well to create for themselves, they could’ve put Montréal under a bit more pressure than they did.
Therefore, while the five-team Canadian Championship and 11-time Voyageurs Cup winners will feel pleased to have avoided the potential banana peel some were expecting them to slip on, Vaughan will be eager to return next year, knowing that they could do some damage with a more fortunate cup draw.
Forge FC takes care of business against Laval:
In the second of three matchups featuring League 1 Canada teams, the PLSQ’s (now Ligue 1 Québec) FC Laval travelled to Forge, who got set to host an L1Q side for a second consecutive year in this competition after beating Outremont 2-0 in the preliminary round last year.
And similarly, Forge was able to once again take care of business this time around, finding a 3-0 win thanks to a brace from the red-hot Noah Jensen, before Woobens Pacius put the game to rest with a penalty that he himself had won.
After a strong start from Laval, who nearly grabbed the lead through a point-blank chance that was sent just over the target by Mamadou Keita, Forge didn’t mess around the rest of the way, putting up the sort of dominant performance one would expect from the three-time CPL champions.
There’s a reason why Forge have only been eliminated by MLS teams since Cavalry knocked them out of the Canadian Championship in 2019, and that’s because they know how to win these games, having built up a wealth of experience in knockout soccer through the likes of the CPL playoffs, CONCACAF League, Champions League and this tournament.
Unfortunately, Laval was on the other side of it, which made for a long night for the semi-professional outfit, who might’ve fancied themselves having a much better chance of potentially advancing had they drawn a different matchup.
Ottawa cruises past Wanderers to first-ever quarter-final:
In a rematch of the CPL’s opening weekend, Ottawa and Halifax renewed acquaintances this week in the Canadian Championship, although it was in unfamiliar territory, as it was at a neutral site in York Lions Stadium due to scheduling issues.
Despite the unfamiliar confines, however, both teams combined for an entertaining matchup, after splitting the spoils in a 1-1 draw over the weekend.
Much like in that game, Halifax came out flying, and got a 1-0 lead to show for it through a beautiful free kick from Massimo Ferrin, as the former League 1 Ontario champion and golden boot winner opened his professional account in style.
From there, they looked primed to add to their lead, but then Ottawa, as they tend to do, managed to claw one back through Malcolm Shaw in the 40th minute, who scored a fantastic header off a perfect ball from Gianni Dos Santos.
After that, it was all Ottawa, who scored a backbreaking goal in the 44th minute through Diego Espejo, and then sealed the game in the 85th minute through Maxim Tissot to win their first-ever Canadian Championship game.
York holds off Vancouver after controversial call:
In the first-ever cup match for Vancouver FC, they got to take on 2021 tournament darlings, York, who made the semi-finals for the first time in their history.
Yet, while Vancouver were excited by this competition, and the prospect of an all-Vancouver derby with the Whitecaps in the next round, they ended up leaving disappointed, as a controversial sixth-minute Mo Babouli penalty ended up being the difference in a 1-0 loss.
Vancouver did well to fight back with plenty of chances of their own, hitting the woodwork multiple times and having a strong penalty shout late on that could’ve easily gone their way, but in the end, their wait for a first club goal and win will have to wait.
As for York, they’ll leave excited by the prospect of another deep run, even if they’ll have been a bit fortunate with how they got this 1-0 win, one that certainly helped forget a 2-0 home loss to Valour from opening weekend.
TSS Rovers pick up upset for the ages over Valour:
Speaking of Valour, however, they featured in the most-anticipated match of the week, as they travelled to BC to take on League 1 BC men’s champions TSS Rovers at the famed Swangard Stadium.
The first time an L1BC team made a foray into this competition, after the league launched just last summer, it promised to be a special occasion, especially given that the Rovers are also the first fan-owned team in Canada, and have a pretty strong roster.
And, it turns out, a special night was indeed brewing at Swangard. Fuelled by a strong crowd, the Rovers stormed out to a 2-0 lead in the first half through goals from Matteo Polisi and Ivan Mejia, as they did well to weather an early push from Valour to then catch them by surprise with the goals.
From there, they seemed to have wings, as the former Pacific man, Polisi, made it 3-0 in the second half, which would be enough for his team to see things over the line. There were some nervy moments in that quest, as Polisi missed a chance for the hat trick and a 4-0 lead from the penalty spot, and then Anthony Novak made it 3-1 late with a penalty of his own, but the Rovers ended up comfortably winning in the end.
With that, they ended up picking one of the biggest upsets in the competition's history, marking the first time that a semi-pro side beat a professional outfit in this tournament. Having not played together competitively since last August, faced off against a Valour team that looked excellent this past weekend, the Rovers were just unfazed by the occasion, picking up a win that those at Swangard won’t forget anytime soon.
Pacific gets 2022 revenge with PK win over Cavalry:
In what was arguably the most balanced matchup of this round, two heavyweights faced off in the final game of this matchday, as 2019 semi-finalists Cavalry paid a visit to 2021 semi-finalists Pacific.
A rematch of the 2019 first qualifying round and the 2021 quarter-finals, where Cavalry won the former and Pacific the latter, it promised to be an intriguing game, as both teams certainly fancied their chances of going deep.
That showed in this game, too, as both teams traded blows in the first half, with goals from Cavalry’s Myer Bevan and Pacific’s Easton Ongaro leaving the game tied at half time. From there, both teams struggled to break the other down, leading it to be the only game to go to penalties.
Having both been eliminated on penalties in last year’s quarter-finals, it meant one team was going to avenge those defeats, which for Pacific came to York at the same venue, while Cavalry fell at home to the Whitecaps.
And in the end, it’d be Pacific who’d get their revenge in front of the same net where York’s Nikos Giantsopoulos bowed to Pacific’s fans after his penalty shootout heroics last year, as 19-year-old goalkeeper Emil Gazdov made a huge save on Daan Klomp in the fourth round, before Georges Mukumbilwa calmly slotted home the winner to send Pacific to the next round.
Team of the Matchday:
A quarter-final lookahead:
The #CanChamp QFs are set!— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) April 21, 2023
Pacific🔱 vs TSS Rovers 🏴☠️
York United🟢 vs #VWFC
Atlético Ottawa🏛️ vs Forge🔨#TFCLive vs #CFMTL
Some tasty matchups, including a Canadian classique, a 2022 #CanPL Finals rematch, and an all-BC darby
Now, that’s set the table for an intriguing next round, as four intriguing matchups now await.
To begin, there’s an all-BC derby, as the Rovers will head to Starlight Stadium to face Pacific in what should be a fantastic game for many reasons. Given that Pacific’s undefeated in competitive BC derbies, they’ll be eager to keep BC purple, while the Rovers will want to keep their underdog story going, with the soccer pirates eager to host a semi-final which could see the Whitecaps visit their old stomping grounds at Swangard.
Then, there’s a rematch of the 2022 semi-finals, as the Whitecaps will visit York, with the winner of this game paying a visit to Pacific or the Rovers in the semi-finals. After the Whitecaps defeated York 2-1 at home last year, it promises to be a good match, too, especially given that the Whitecaps haven’t outright won a game on the road in this competition since 2015, when they defeated FC Edmonton, which should be a big confidence booster for York.
On the other side of the bracket, Forge will host Ottawa in a rematch of the 2022 CPL finals, in which Forge defeated the regular season champions 2-0 on the road to lift their third North Star Shield. Safe to say, both sides will be thinking of that in this game, which should make for an interesting match between two teams that always play each other tightly.
From there, those teams will head to either Toronto or Montréal for the winner of the tastiest match of this round, which comes in the form of a Canadian Classique between Toronto FC and CF Montréal at BMO Field. The earliest these two teams have ever met in this competition, whoever loses will feel heavy pressure from their fans, which should make for a fun matchup between the two-winningest teams in this competition's history.
Cover Photo Credit: AFTN / Tom Ewasiuk