No matter how much the Canadian Soccer Association tries to screw it, I'll always esteem the Voyageurs Cup over all other domestic trophies. And no matter how irrelevant it is in the greater scheme of things, I take a Cascadia Cup over any number of other derby victories.
It's not because there's some silverware attached, but because of where that silverware came from. Both these competitions were paid for and pioneered by supporters, the ordinary men and women who wanted nothing more than to celebrate soccer and beat the hell out of their rivals. It's a tradition you see in almost no other sporting contexts, and it's one of my favourite things about this sport.
It's a tradition the Juan de Fuca Plate is carrying on.
If you've never heard of the Juan de Fuca Plate you're not alone. This is its first season and it is at a level not everyone watches. The Juan de Fuca Plate crowns the top British Columbia team in the top league played around the province, in this case the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League. The team with the best record in games between Vancouver Whitecaps U-23, the Victoria Highlanders, and the Fraser Valley Mariners will hoist the distinctive piece of silver and wood pictured to the left.
It is also a classic supporters-driven trophy. It was proposed and largely created by Drew Shaw, a member of the Victoria Highlanders supporters group the Lake Side Buoys. Another Lake Side Buoy, Ted Godwin, coined the name. The initial discussion and fundraising took place on the Vancouver Southsiders board, and both Victoria and Vancouver supporters contributed in equal measure to making it a reality. A goal was set and exceeded by such a surplus that two banners for Juan de Fuca Plate matches (one on the Island and one on the mainland) are being commissioned for next year. The resulting award, an elegant twelve-inch silver plate on a custom-carved wooden base, makes the PDL championship look like a trophy store cheapie.
The Fraser Valley Mariners have few fans and no media presence to speak of. The Victoria Highlanders haven't acknowledged the Plate's existence, and while the Whitecaps have enthusiastically promoted the Plate there's a long way to go before it becomes part of the general fan's consciousness. Well, what of it? The great supporters' trophies have started from humbler beginnings than this.
Tonight, at 7:30 PM, the Whitecaps U-23 face the Fraser Valley Mariners at Swangard Stadium in the climactic clash of the inaugural Juan de Fuca Plate. Fraser Valley is well out of it but have a chance to play spoiler: if the Whitecaps don't win tonight, the Plate goes to the Victoria Highlanders. If Vancouver does what is expected and defeats the Mariners, the young 'Caps will get to parade a piece of silverware before their home fans.
The odds are heavily against Fraser Valley (and thus Victoria), of course. As I mentioned yesterday morning the Mariners are having a garbage season, with only one point and three goals to their name in fifteen matches. If the Mariners so much as got a draw at Swangard it would be the upset of the season.
But wait just one second. Fraser Valley's last three games have been acceptably close: a 1-0 stoppage-time loss to the Highlanders, another narrow 1-0 loss to the Sounders U-23s, and a 2-0 defeat at home to Portland U-23s that was one-sided but at least respectable. Meanwhile, the Whitecaps U-18s are back in town after the Canadian U-20 national team training camp in Mexico. If they're thrown back in the lineup that will on paper bolster Vancouver's chances, but there's just a chance that the players will be too tired to play their best and the needle will actually swing back Fraser Valley's way.
I'm going to some lengths to make a one-sided match look interesting, but the truth is that if there was ever a time when the 2012 Fraser Valley Mariners were going to beat the 2012 Vancouver Whitecaps U-23s at Swangard, this is that time. You know the Highlanders fans will be cheering them on.
The Plate itself will be presented to the Whitecaps (if they win) or a Highlanders supporter (if not). There'll be celebration, photo opportunities... and then back to the supporters who made it. Like the Cascadia Cup, the Juan de Fuca Plate is supporter-held. The action all takes place on the field, the players get their laurels and recognition, but the actual prize belongs to the fans.
It's only PDL, but how could you do better?