The Day After Yesterday

Let's make one thing clear: last night was a black day for Canadian football. Not because Toronto won (the chorus of "waah! everybody hates Toronto!" is already up in full force among the usual elements) but because Montreal disgraced our national championship. Short of match fixing, there was nothing more the Impact could have done to discredit the game in this country. A neutral observer used to seeing Manchester United every weekend or somebody being introduced to the game would have walked away thinking that we're a bunch of amateurs. A Briton I work with laughed in my face today when the game came up.

It wasn't all bad. Toronto FC fans are happy, as they should be. The Canadian Stretford End has pronounced this a triumph for the Canadian game because of the excitement. Well, for a Toronto FC diehard it was exciting, but we don't measure success by the number of happy fans who were already supporters. Anybody without a vested rooting interest for Toronto over Vancouver would have walked out shaking their head in disbelief. It's true that teams from lesser nations tank even the UEFA Champions League in favour of their domestic competition, but is that what we want the Canadian Championship to be? "The Voyageurs Cup: We're About As Exciting As Andorra"?

Let's not spare the Impact fans their blushes. No complaints about the real Montreal Ultras, but there's always been a huge prawn sandwich brigade in Montreal, many of whom call themselves Ultras but only sing when the Impact are winning. On a rainy day with the Impact playing for pride against a supposedly mortal rival, Toronto chants filled Stade Saputo for ninety minutes on television. The disgraceful effort by the Montreal players and staff was met by the disgraceful effort from all but their best fans.

Nobody should blame Toronto. They didn't pick their opponent. They had a job to do and they did it. I'm going to be behind the FC with full voice in the CONCACAF Champions League, and so should you. There are a lot of sour grapes out there right now, but we saw that last year too when the Impact won and most of us got over it. What we should really worry about is a solution, other than banning Montreal from future Voyageurs Cups (though that has a certain appeal).

The fairest and simplest way is a single-leg replay. If all three teams are tied on points go to goal differential and so on, but if two teams wind up on nine points have them play a single leg at a neutral site, winner take all. Imagine the excitement if, next week, Toronto took on Vancouver in, say, Edmonton or even Montreal for all the marbles. Imagine the buildup! Two teams, in classic elimination fashion, with nothing to lose and everything to win, and no possibility of the Montreal Impact's lack of integrity fouling up the goal differential.

Of course, really making the Voyageurs Cup great would require weekend dates and more pre-match buildup. It would, in short, require MLS and the USL to stop being inept jackasses, so I'm not holding my breath. It is a horrible truth that the Canadian game is enslaved to the shambolic American leagues, leagues with no conception of the game's history, leagues that can't even bother to recognize international dates and dilute their product by going up against the game's biggest competitions and forcing their stars to choose between club and country. If the CONCACAF Gold Cup can't get a couple weeks off out of those idiots, what chance does the Voyageurs Cup have?

The Montreal Impact deliberately made a mockery of our only national football competition. It will take a long time for Canadians to forgive them for that. But that mockery was only made possible by the idiocy of our footballing masters across the border, and we shouldn't lose sight of that essential truth.

Still, only one thing really matters today. Congratulations, Toronto FC, who will be worthy representatives even if their best player has turned his back on Canada. I only hope I can catch one of your many, many CONCACAF Champions League matches in the coming season.

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