Everything you NEED to know ahead of 2023 League1 Canada Inter-Provincial Championship
After a successful maiden edition of the League1 Canada Inter-Provincial Championships last summer, the 2023 edition is set to kick off this weekend (August 11-13) in Langley, BC.
There, four teams are vying to become the second-ever champion, after AS Blainville downed AS Laval 3-0 in last year’s final to claim the inaugural crown.
This time, a new champion awaits. With Blainville taking a step back this year, falling in the semi-finals of the Coupe L1QC playoffs to FC Laval, they were unable to even book a spot in this tournament to defend their crown.
Therefore, it’ll be up to the three champions of League 1 BC (Vancouver Whitecaps), League 1 Ontario (Alliance United) and Ligue 1 Québec (PEF Québec), as well as an extra side from BC due to their status as hosts (Unity FC), to try and follow in the footsteps of Blainville.
Either way, one thing's for sure – this tournament promises to deliver in terms of excitement. As seen last year, this competition is only providing a small glimpse of what the professional game could hopefully soon look like in the country, showcasing the talent of tomorrow.
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Because of that, there's a lot to keep an eye on out in Langley this weekend. From the semi-finals between Unity and PEF Québec, as well as the Whitecaps and Alliance United, to the final between the winners of those matchups, there will be some big games on display in this tournament.
Especially after last year’s edition featured just one of the champions from League 1 BC, Ontario and Québec (fittingly, Blainville) as the BC and Ontario champions had to pull out due to scheduling complaints, this tournament will be truly best-on-best in terms of League 1 Canada women’s competition this time, too.
And with League 1 Canada continuing to grow, with the launch of League 1 Atlantic imminent (where the Halifax Wanderers are among the sides pledging to launch a women’s team), this tournament will only continue to grow going forward, so this is just the start. Safe to say, there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on these games, that’s for sure.
Speaking of, here’s what you need to know about the teams competing in this tournament.
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The lone returnee team from last year’s tournament, Alliance enter this competition feeling much more confident in their hopes, as they come back as League 1 Ontario champions after finishing as runners-up to NDC Ontario in 2022.
Only sent to represent League 1 Ontario in 2022 as the majority of NDC’s players had to compete in the Canada Games, Alliance then fell in the semi-finals on penalties to AS Laval, before defeating Nautsa’mawt FC (then Varsity) on penalties to finish third place.
Because of that, they’ll be looking to improve on that result this time around. Having defeated the NDC 2-1 after extra time in this year’s final, they enter this tournament as deserved League 1 Ontario representatives this time, and have the confidence of having downed a very good NDC side to get here.
Despite having finished fourth in the regular season (NDC finished first and got a bye), Alliance climbed by fifth-place Woodbridge Strikers on penalties 5(1-1)3 in the quarter-finals, defeated second-place Vaughan Azzurri 2-1 in the semi-finals, before taking down the NDC in the final.
Yet, as they did during much of the regular season, they can turn to their defensive prowess as a big reason for their success in the playoffs, as they entered the postseason having allowed the second-fewest goals in the League 1 Ontario regular season with 13 in 18 games.
Therefore, look for them to maintain that as they get set for this tournament. Especially against a high-flying Whitecaps team that loves to score goals, Alliance’s defence is going to have to be sturdy, giving their attack a chance to get involved.
Having scored the joint-fewest goals of any League 1 Ontario playoff team with 34, that’s a formula they’re comfortable with, and will now look to keep up heading into these matches.
One of the three new teams in this tournament, PEF Québec are also legitimately one of the newest teams in League 1 Canada - they only made their Ligue 1 Québec debut in 2022.
A branch of Québec’s National Development Centre (Programme Execl Féminine in French), known as the NDC in Ontario and Whitecaps REX in BC, they also recently partnered with CF Montréal this year after running on their own last year.
Turns out, that change would prove to be quite beneficial for them - after missing out on the playoffs entirely in 2022, they ended up winning the double this season - finishing first in the Ligue 1 Québec regular season standings, before also winning the Couple L1QC to book their spot at this tournament.
Despite having to endure a four-round gauntlet through the latter, including matches against CS St-Hubert, Royal-Sélect de Beauport, Rapides de Chaudière-Ouest and then FC Laval in the final, they were flawless across those rounds, too, winning those games by a combined score of 9-2.
After claiming 26 points from 11 games in the regular season, scoring a league-leading 28 goals and conceding a league-best seven, it was a dominant and deserved Coupe L1QC run to top it off from PEF.
Because of that, it’ll make it interesting to see how this PEF team lines up in this competition. Much like the Whitecaps and NDC, they’re a young outfit, yet that hasn’t stopped them from rolling through the competition in Québec, giving them an advantage heading into this tournament.
In fact, given that both finalists last year were from the province, headlined by the eventual winner, that arguably could make PEF the favourites, making them a team to watch this weekend.
The second BC entrant in this tournament, Unity might be the only team to enter this competition without a trophy under their belt this season, but make no mistake - they’re here to frustrate.
They may have come up just short in the League 1 BC final, falling 3-1 to the Whitecaps, but they certainly came close to winning, taking a 1-0 lead in the first half before the Whitecaps really kicked things into high gear.
Therefore, don’t be fooled by that, or them finishing third place in the regular season. They had to take out a very good Nautsa’mawt side to even make the final, surprising them in a dominant 4-1 display in the semi-finals, as their style of play lent itself nicely to those big games.
They can defend well, even if they allowed 25 goals in 14 regular season League 1 BC games, given that 11 of those came from their two games against the Whitecaps, who scored for fun against everybody in League 1 BC.
Plus, as they showed across the regular season (35 goals in 14 games) and the playoffs, this Unity team can also score, too. In particular, set pieces are a big weapon, although they’ve got a few names that can be dangerous in open play, too.
Because of that, don’t be surprised if they push PEF in this semi-final. Especially given the advantage they’ll have of not needing to travel, and potentially having home support (which there should be after the club announced a new ownership group just this week), and there are a lot of factors working in their favour heading into that game.
Sometimes, across a 90-minute match, that can be a huge advantage, one that Unity will look to lean on this weekend.
Lastly, that leaves the League 1 BC champions, the Whitecaps, who enter this tournament eager to add to a rapidly growing trophy cabinet.
Having already won four trophies this year, with the team sweeping League 1 BC (regular season, playoffs and the Juan De Fuca Plate for most joint men’s+women’s points), along with the FIFA/Blue Stars Youth Cup (where they played youth teams like Basel and Juventus to win), they’re hungry to now make it five.
And given what they've shown across those victories, it’s hard to not back them in that cause. Despite being a very young team, they’ve proven to have a ruthless mentality in big games and will want to prove that in this tournament.
Having only missed out on last year’s edition due to the Canada Games, after winning the League 1 BC playoff final in style on a late winner, they enter this tournament hungry to win, too.
Therefore, it’s argued that they could very well be favourites in this tournament. And given that they’ve got a record of 13W-1D-2L in their last 16 League 1 BC games (regular season and playoffs), where they’ve outscored opponents 62-20, it’s hard to find much to argue that.
Players on this Whitecaps team want to play professionally, especially with the club launching a team in Project 8 Sports professional women’s soccer league, and are pushing forward with the goal of doing so off the back of these sorts of moments.
That’s a lot of pressure for a young group, no doubt, but they welcome that, and will look to make it a 2023 quintuple by the time the dust settles on championship Sunday.