Everybody loves a preview article. It tells you nothing you didn't already know, takes up valuable minutes of your life you could spend learning a new language or spending time with your family, and at the end of it you'll disagree with whatever I wrote anyway. I don't know why writers, aside from the singularly lazy, bother with them.
Luckily, I am singularly lazy.
So I'm going to break down each position and important non-positional factor, team by team. Then I'm going to tell you who's best. Then you're going to comment and tell me what an idiot I am. I think it's a great system for everybody, and with each team having played its last game before Montreal and Toronto kick off on Wednesday, the time is right.
Without further ado: the Maple Leaf Forever 2010 Voyageurs Cup Preview Article, broken down position by position for your reading and arguing convenience.
Goalkeepers: best Vancouver, second-best Toronto, third-best Montreal.
This is a competitive category, as all three teams run out quite skilled goaltenders. Placing Montreal third should be no slight on Matt Jordan, who was the main reason the Impact won the 2008 Voyageurs Cup and would be a big factor if they hypothetically won the 2010 edition. But Stefan Frei beats out Jordan on sheer athleticism, even if he lacks Jordan's poise, experience, and ability to control his area. Certainly, on any given Wednesday, these rankings could be flipped right around.
Perhaps it's just my bias from watching the Whitecaps too much, but he Jay Nolly is the best of the lot. An elite second division goalkeeper, would look quite good in MLS, and has stymied both Toronto and Montreal in the past. He does not suffer from Frei's occasional brain cramps, but his superior physical ability compared to Jordan makes him the best in the tournament.
Defenders: best Vancouver, second-best Montreal, third-best Toronto
Mouloud Alkoul, who was the pundits' choice to be Vancouver's best defender this season if he could ever get on the pitch, is out with injury after playing less than half an hour of Whitecaps football. The other highly-touted acquisition, former FC Dallas starter Blake Wagner, has not been heard from so far this season. But the defense has still been good enough to get Jay Nolly three pretty easy clean sheets to start the season, with Nelson Akwari, Chris Williams, Greg Janicki, Zourab Tsiskaridze, and Wes Knight putting in stalwart and largely error-free service early in the season. As the relatively new roster plays more and the Cup progresses, the defense could be on even better form when Vancouver plays its two key road matches to close out the Cup.
Montreal's back line is less spectacular but it is also absolutely legitimate. It is a more veteran group than the Vancouver gang, headlined by Adam Braz, Stefano Pesoli, and captain Nevio Pizzolitto. With other highly effective players such as Cedric Jonquivel, Hicham Aâboubou, and Simon Gatti, the Impact can run a sterling defensive line that may get into foul trouble now and again but will also terrorize unprepared Vancouver or Toronto strikers.
Toronto FC also has defenders on its roster. Some of them are oft-injured eastern Europeans with mysterious, worrisome chronic knee problems. Some of them are just useless. Some of them are Nick Garcia. I like Nana Attakora as much as anybody but he's one man and won't make up the difference.
Midfielders: best Toronto, second-best Montreal, third-best Vancouver
When I say "best Toronto", imagine a nice, long pause before I say "second-best Montreal". Go make a cup of tea, that's how long a pause we're talking about here.
Oh, Montreal's midfield is fine. I'm as big a Tyler Hemming fan as is left on the planet and it would take a braver man than I to condemn David Testo, Rocco Placentino, and Stephen deRoux to the dustbin of history. They're good players. They'll do some damage. But Toronto's strength at this position is unrivaled. Dwayne De Rosario, Julian De Guzman, Sam Cronin, and that's enough. Their depth does not impress (I'm not exactly feeling a chill down my spine at the thought of Nick LaBrocca bearing down on Jay Nolly), but their top end is plenty strong.
Vancouver has some bright spots on their midfield but so far this season it has been, on balance, a position of weakness. Martin Nash is old and slow, even if his service and ball control is as remarkable as ever. Ansu Toure and Nisar Khalfan are fair enough players, and Luca Bellisomo has been surprisingly strong so far as a central midfielder. But there's not much talent there.
Forwards: best Montreal, second-best Vancouver, third-best Toronto
This is a much tighter race, possibly the closest of all. None of these three teams have overwhelming strike forces. I give Montreal the benefit of the doubt because, even if their best players are getting older, we know they can score. Roberto Brown is my pick for the tournament's Golden Boot. Eduardo Sebrango isn't what he used to be but he will poach one here and there off the bench. Peter Byers is more of a question mark but at least he has promise.
I agonized over the order of Vancouver and Toronto. Vancouver's best striker, Marlon James, is too often injured to rely upon. Toronto's best striker is a midfielder, Dwayne De Rosario, and from there it is a chorus of futility headlined by the infamous Chad Barrett. But they are futile against superior MLS defenses and history has shown that the jump from second division to first in North America is greatest for strikers. Neither one has enough depth to impress. Randy Edwini-Bonsu and Dever Orgill have potential but they can't score yet. O'Brian White, for Toronto, is closer to rounding into the goal-poaching so-and-so they hope he will become but Fuad Ibrahim is still some way off.
I finally give Vancouver the advantage based on returning loanee Marcus Haber: I'm not that high on the kid but if James stays healthy he can take some of the pressure off the St. Vincentian, and if James gets hurt he still provides us with some scoring depth Toronto hasn't got.
Bench: best Vancouver, second-best Montreal, third-best Toronto
Vancouver has at least one and usually two legitimate tactical or injury substitutions available at every position. If Jay Nolly (he of the playing every single minute in 2009) gets hurt, Simon Thomas isn't a star but he's perfectly adequate and Dan Pelc is considered a hot prospect by CSL fans. There are enough midfielders with sufficiently varied skill sets that Teitur Thordarson can throw any sort of lineup he wants together even if a player or two goes down. Dever Orgill, Randy Edwini-Bonsu, and Alex Semenets are borderline interchangeable up front with Ricardo Sanchez providing a veteran, no-nonsense tactical curveball.
The Montreal Impact, too, benefit from a surfeit of interchangeable players. With six defenders and eight midfielders who could start for most USSF D2 teams, they can field a lineup as strong in the ninetieth minute as it was in the first. They fall behind Vancouver in the individual calibre of each of their substitutes as well as the tactical variation they can throw out with their substitutions, but they are still top-notch from the bench.
Toronto FC only recently acquired enough players to have a bench, and most of them you won't have heard of or won't care about if you have. Their depth has been a point of contention for their supporters throughout the season so far, and with Preki viewing the Voyageurs Cup as a second-rate tournament it may become a critical obstacle.
The verdict: I have Vancouver winning the 2010 Voyageurs Cup, although Montreal could easily give them a run for their money and Toronto, of course, is hardly out of it. Just because the Whitecaps are the favourites doesn't mean they're sure things. It ought to be a close competition, or at least closer than last year: if you're a neutral, isn't that what matters?
Me, I'm just waiting for Vancouver.