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The Voyageurs Cup and the Association That's Disgracing It

It was theoretically possible for me to assume that the decision to take away the Vancouver Whitecaps' 2-1 lead in the Voyageurs Cup final was a fair one. Theoretically.

If, for example, the Canadian Soccer Association hadn't set up this entire tournament in Toronto's favour, I might be better-inclined. Toronto has spent the past two years whining about fixture congestion (fixture congestion which isn't nearly as bad as defending NASL champion and current best-team-in-the-league Puerto Rico faces every single year, but never mind that), so the CSA made the Voyageurs Cup a cup rather than an equitable league-style tournament. Then they made Toronto play Edmonton, expected to be the weakest side in the tournament, not by drawing lots or any other fair random technique, but by fiat. They decided that their would be bogus "seedings" that had not been announced or hinted at in the previous tournament; seedings which ranked Toronto first because they were reigning champions and Edmonton last because that way they'd play Toronto. Then they scheduled Edmonton's home game at an extremely early time which ensured a mediocre FC Edmonton crowd in a cavernous Commonwealth Stadium (an utterly unsuitable venue which Edmonton was forced to play in by... you guessed it... the Canadian Soccer Association).

They've spent the entire 2011 soccer season lining Toronto's road to the Voyageurs Cup final with myrrh, so excuse me if I don't give them the benefit of the doubt on this one. Rain and lightning racks BMO Field; that's not the CSA's fault. And if lightning is imperiling the players then of course play must be suspended. First-rate sports blogger and Toronto FC fan Tyler Dellow, in attendance, told me that the lightning wasn't striking the stadium itself but was "within a [kilometer] or so". Well, better safe than sorry.

There are only two things the Canadian Soccer Association could do wrong. One would be to imperil the lives of fans or players, which luckily didn't happen. The other would be to declare that an hour-old game which Vancouver was leading didn't count. That the entire premise of soccer, "the team which scores more goals is the winner", doesn't apply. While Toronto FC's field staff sat around with their thumbs up their butts rather than roll tarps over the field or bust or bust our the squeegees, and while Toronto FC's head coach turned to the cameras just before the match was 70% completed and declared that it was unplayable, the CSA directly intervened to, very possibly, change the outcome of the national championship which they pretend to hold in such high regard.

They might as well have taken a shit in the Voyageurs Cup itself. Toronto FC will get a free chance to play the game again. Anybody who believes in sportsmanship must hope that they choke on it.

If you're a Toronto FC fan, a) go away, and b) you're probably here to point at the rules of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. I can read as well as you can. In fact, I can quote too.

It’s all come down to one game. Toronto FC will host Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the second leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship final on 25 May (20.00 local kick-off) with the tie level at 1-1 following a hotly contested first match in Vancouver.

Oops, wrong page. Heh. "It's all come down to one game." "It's all come down to one game unless Toronto is losing and their grounds crew can ignore the rain long enough to come up with a bogus reason to stop", you mean. Ah, here's the right one.

If the match is abandoned before the completion of normal playing time because of extreme weather or for reasons outside the control of the host team, the match shall be replayed in its entirety the following day, thus avoiding the considerable extra expense for the visiting team. If it is still impossible to play the match the next day for the same reasons, the match may be postponed by another day, provided both teams agree. If the match can still not be played on the third day, the expenses thus incurred by the visiting team shall be split between the two teams. A decision will be taken within two hours of the referee’s decision to abandon the match, in consultation with the two clubs concerned. In case of dispute, the CSA Organising Committee fixes the date and kick-off time of the match. Its decision is final

That's from the official 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship match rules. I'd like you to note a few key phrases. The first is "extreme weather". I think we can all agree that lightning striking the stadium itself is extreme. I'm not sure we can all agree that lightning striking the same city that the stadium is in is extreme, and lightning did not apparently strike the stadium itself. The Vancouver Whitecaps wanted the game to proceed immediately; I assume that they aren't suicidal maniacs who are willing to die for the sake of a game that they were winning but by no means dominating (Toronto had the better of the scoring chances immediately before the suspension).

As for a wet pitch, well, see the phrase "outside the control of the host team". The Toronto FC ground staff did not attack the rain. They didn't roll out the plastic, they didn't try to energetically squeegee the grass. They let it fall, fall, fall, because Toronto was losing the final 2-1 on aggregate. The ability to cover the grass or to at least do something about the standing water was fully within the control of the host team, who made a tactical decision to try and get the game canceled. It was disgraceful and it was completely undisguised.

If Toronto FC thought the match was unsafe, they were will within their rights to forfeit. Had they made even the barest good-faith effort to dry the field, they would have had a moral leg to stand on. As it is they were unabashedly trying to overturn a game that was going against them and the Canadian Soccer Association went along with it.

Two years ago, I attended a game between the Whitecaps and the Puerto Rico Islanders at Swangard Stadium. I lived in Victoria at the time so it was rare for me to get to games in Vancouver. But rain clouds were threatening and soon an electrical storm hit. We sheltered under the grandstand for over two hours while we waited for the storm to clear. When it did so, the Whitecaps came out and won the game 4-2 after the stoppage. There was standing water on the field when play finally resumed. Nobody died. I was only watching this game on television but I can assure you that it looked no more ferocious than the 2009 game I'm referring to: besides, you don't need me to say that Vancouver is known for the quantity of its rain.

You may ask "what could the CSA do"? They could acknowledge Toronto's attempt to cheat, for one, and say that they could either forfeit or get back onto the field they were trying to ruin. Or they could ignore their competition rule, the one which goes on about they have to replay the game for financial reasons. It's not like the CSA has never changed a rule on the fly before. Hell, they've already changed the rules governing the format of this tournament on the fly when FC Edmonton came around and they decided to turn it into a seeded cup. They've already altered the rules to try and make the game fairer, restricting Toronto from using the twelve extra players on their roster who are in town. That's nowhere in the rule book but they did it anyway because it's fair. So why couldn't they resume the game Thursday morning (if safe) from the 60th minute with the score Toronto FC 0, Vancouver Whitecaps 1. Give Toronto the chance to win the Voyageurs Cup honourably on the field of play. Don't give them a do-over.

Because right now, the Voyageurs Cup is perilously close to becoming just another tinpot trophy straight out of the Soviet Union, and it's the Canadian Soccer Association's fault.