CANCHAMP ROUND-UP: Whitecaps cruise, Montréal gets TFC revenge, Rovers dream ends
And then there were four.
The 2023 Canadian Championship quarter-finals came and went this week, and all of a sudden, the semi-finals are right around the corner, with 14 teams now down to a final four in the hunt to lift the Voyageurs Cup – and the Concacaf Champions League spot that comes with it.
Yet, despite the speed of this tournament, there remains no shortage of storylines, and this upcoming round delivers on that. After seeing a Canadian Classique, a 2022 CPL Finals rematch, a piece of League1 Canada history and a 2022 Canadian Championship semi-final rematch in the quarter-finals, the two semi-finals don’t disappoint in that regard.
Headlined by a second-ever Ferryside Derby, and accompanied by a third meeting in three years for Forge and Montréal in this competition, those matchups should keep the intrigue flowing, while setting up an entertaining final no matter what happens.
Safe to say, this competition continues to be on the right track in its growth, and this round was a further example of that. There weren’t any cupsets on the cards this time around, but the four games delivered plenty of drama, continuing the growth that this competition has seen year after year.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at what to take away from these games.
CF Montréal avenges 2022 in Canadian Classique
Fans of both teams may disagree, but from a neutral perspective, this was an excellent matchup to see at this stage of the competition.
The two winningest teams in this competition's history, with Montréal holding the edge in all-time Voyageurs Cup wins, and Toronto holding the edge in the Canadian Championship era, there was a lot at stake as these two got set for this match.
The earliest they’d ever met in this competition, having only ever met in the semi-finals and finals previously, this game was huge for both sides.
For Toronto, it was a chance to salvage some hope in what is quickly becoming a lost season, while for Montréal, it was an opportunity to show that they’re on the right track after a slow start.
And in the end, Montréal’s surging form ended up being enough to win, as they capitalized on some sloppy Toronto defending to storm out to a 2-0 first-half lead via goals from Zachary Brault-Guillard and Chinonso Offor.
Lorenzo Insigne then made things interesting before the first half was over, scoring his first-ever Canadian Championship goal, but from there, Montréal did enough to hold on for the 2-1 win.
Despite rotating their squad a decent amount (including a rare spot for Rudy Camacho in midfield), Montréal always seemed in control, and in the end, that allowed them to get revenge for a 4-0 Toronto drubbing in the 2022 semi-finals.
As for Toronto, it’s a huge loss. The earliest they’ve ever been eliminated from this competition, this now means they’ll have only won one of the last five Voyageurs Cups, and that was the shortened 2020 edition that was played in 2022.
Quietly, they’re yet to win the four editions where it’s been a full bracket since CPL teams joined in 2019, after winning three straight from 2016 to 2018.
Coupled with their struggles in MLS play, it’s a tough time for the club right now, one that will leave many wondering what’s going on, as they stumble into crisis on and off the pitch.
All of a sudden, there are some huge weeks ahead for TFC, especially after this game, as they look to ensure that they don’t let another season fall off the rails once again.
Forge narrowly gets by Ottawa in 2022 CPL finals rematch
A 2022 CPL finals rematch, this game was arguably more interesting not because of that, but due to the contrasting form both of them were in heading into this.
On one hand, Forge is arguably the hottest team in the CPL, sitting atop the league table. Meanwhile, Ottawa is yet to win, and sits bottom of the table, so far struggling to replicate their 2022 regular season winning form.
Because of that, the big intrigue heading into this game was seeing if Ottawa would even be able to keep it competitive across 90 minutes.
Turns out, they’d certainly be able to do that, as they put in one of their best performances of the season. Especially defensively, where they’ve struggled this year, they looked a lot more organized and disciplined, while also offering a bit more in the attack.
As a result, they did well to push all game long. Even as they suffered the gut punch of seeing Forge grab a lead out of a moment of magic from Kyle Bekker in the 76th minute, a goal that many expected to sink them based on their league form, they battled back to tie things up via an Ollie Bassett penalty in the 87th.
From there, they managed to get to penalties, which was huge.
But then, Ottawa had a shootout to forget. Despite going first, giving them the statistical advantage, they missed their first two penalties. They also got away with it, as Forge also struggled (the shootout went to a sixth-round tied at 2), but they then missed their sixth-round attempt, and that was enough for Forge to win.
Through that, it allowed Forge to reach a second semi-final in three years, as they continued to impress in this tournament. It might’ve not been their best game, but as Bobby Smyrniotis said afterwards, a game like this isn’t about performances or three points, it’s about advancing, and they did that.
As for Ottawa, they’ll have plenty to be proud of. The first time they’ve ever made it this far, they’ll be pleased with how they went out, and will now look to carry that momentum over to league play.
Vancouver Whitecaps begins title defence in style against York
Would history be on York’s side as they took on the defending champions? Facing off against a Vancouver Whitecaps team that had never beaten a CPL team on the road, and hadn’t won a road game in this competition since 2015, it was interesting to see if York could become the third CPL side to eliminate Vancouver in this tournament’s history.
It was going to be tough, as York continued to battle the injury bug, while Vancouver did not mess around with the lineup they put in this match, but the possibility was there.
And for 64 minutes, the upset was certainly in the cards. York held on, even if the Whitecaps were knocking on the door with several chances, including a few that they probably should’ve put away.
Yet, thanks to a bit of luck and a strong Niko Giantsopoulos performance in goal, York was hanging around, eager to grab the goal that could change everything.
Unfortunately, however, that would not come, as Vancouver finally burst the dam in the 64th minute. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, as Russell Teibert’s strike hit the crossbar and then York’s Elijah Adekugbe, before slowly rolling in, but it was enough to give Vancouver momentum.
From there, one quickly became two after a rare mistake from Giantsopoulos gifted a goal to Simon Becher, and then Whitecaps II call-up Levonte Johnson made it three with his first goal for the Whitecaps' first team to put the tie to rest.
York then got a nice consolation marker through the 2021 Canadian Championship golden boot winner, Austin Ricci, but Vancouver then got a fourth just minutes later, as they cruised to their biggest win in this competition since 2016, when they beat the Ottawa Fury 3-0.
Through that, they showed why they’re the defending champions, as they want to win this competition again, and will do whatever it takes to do so. Eager to lift this trophy for just the third time ever, and for the first time in consecutive years, they look to be the team to beat through two rounds, and this game showed why.
Pacific keeps BC purple in 2-0 win over TSS Rovers
Lastly, to round the quarter-finals off, Pacific hosted the TSS Rovers in an all-BC derby, in a special match on many fronts.
The first time a semi-professional side has made it this far in the competition, after the Rovers became the first semi-pro side to beat a professional one last round, they entered this match in uncharted territory.
In Pacific, they faced a stiff, stiff test, however.
To their credit, they stood strong in front of it for 60 minutes. Thanks to their aggressive defensive style, they were arguably the better team in the first half, and remained very much in the thick of the fight through 65 minutes.
But as the game went along, Pacific grew into the match nicely, especially as they started to dip into their deep and talented bench.
Through that, they slowly started to wear down the Rovers, and that paid off in the 66th minute, when Josh Heard won and converted a penalty.
From there, it was all Pacific, as Adonijah Reid made it 2-0, allowing Pacific to advance to the semi-finals for the second time in their history.
Despite that, the Rovers had a lot to be proud of. In a tough environment, they and their strong swell of away fans pushed right until the very end, and did not look out of place at any time.
Through that, they proved that League 1 Canada teams can make some noise in this competition, and aren’t just there to make up the numbers.
While they’ll be frustrated with how things ended, they’ll be happy to know that the image of their celebrations after their win over Valour will live in the memories of many for a long time, as they gave this tournament a shot of magic that it badly needs in its quest to rival those around the world.
Team of the Matchday:
Golden Boot: Matteo Polisi, Noah Jensen (2)
Clean Sheets: Kieran Baskett, Logan Ketterer, Niko Giantsopoulos, Triston Henry (1)
The SFs of the #CanChamp are set: #CFMTL vs Forge⚒️— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) May 11, 2023
Pacific FC🔱 vs #VWFC
We've got a 3rd straight year of CFMTL vs Forge, which should be a great battle, and then a 2nd-ever Ferryside Darby between the 'Caps and Pacific, which based on the 1st, should be 🔥
Now, things will get serious on May 24th, when the semi-finals kick-off as part of a doubleheader.
First, there’s the clash between Montréal and Forge at Stade Saputo, as these two teams meet for a third straight Canadian Championship. There, Forge will look for revenge, as Montréal beat them in the 2021 semi-finals in an epic 11-round penalty shootout, before dispatching them with ease 3-0 in last year’s quarter-finals.
A matchup that also features a clash of the Choinière brothers, and a whole host of players that played together at various youth levels and clubs, this should be a fun matchup on many levels as both teams look to book their ticket to the final.
Then, there’s the headline match of this round - the Ferryside Darby between Pacific FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The second-ever meeting between these two teams in this competition, it should be a good one, as Pacific famously beat Vancouver 4-3 in the preliminary round of the 2021 competition, where head coach Pa Modou Kaha then coined the Ferryside name after.
In front of what should be a sold-out Starlight Stadium, with fans from both teams there in big numbers, this game will be special. With several players with connections to both teams, the fan presence and of course the memories of 2021, this should be an emotionally charged match.
Plus, given that whoever wins this game will host, that’s huge for Pacific, who would become the fifth-ever host and first CPL team to do so via the bracket (given that Forge hosted the 2020 final that was guaranteed to pit a CPL team versus an MLS one).
That would be special, on many fronts, but to do so they must beat a Whitecaps team eager to defend their crown and host a second straight final of their own, which should make for a fun matchup as Pacific looks to keep its undefeated record in BC derbies (having now beaten the Whitecaps, Vancouver FC and the TSS Rovers in their history, keeping BC purple).