July 18, 2024
  • July 18, 2024
Vancouver FC Tyler Crawford

A Deep Dive Into The Preliminary Round of the 2024 Canadian Championship

By on March 2, 2024 0 1658 Views

With the new-look Canadian Championship draw now set, there are some tasty matchups for both MLS, Canadian Premier League and League1 Canada teams in the preliminary round.

Let’s dive in to see which ones could turn heads with shocking upsets, fiery derbies and more!

The Preliminary Round Preview

Cavalry FC Mikael Cantave
Photo Credit: Bart Onyszko

Match #1: Cavalry vs Vancouver FC

The first match of the tournament pits the reigning North Shield champions Cavalry FC against a new-look Vancouver FC side in its sophmore year of existence. Cavalry come in as hosts, and will fancy their chances at home in this one-off match. However, Vancouver have brought in a lot of quality this off-season, bringing in the likes of Ben Fisk, David Norman Jr, and Paris Gee, to just name a few.

This match is tasty not just cause of the match itself, but because of its implications. If Vancouver FC beat Cavalry in the preliminary round, they set up the first ever “Vancouver vs Vancouver” matchup in the Quarter-Final round against the Whitecaps. Meanwhile, if Cavalry FC go through instead, Tommy Wheldon Jr.’s side will get the chance to haunt the Whitecaps once more after their 2019 shock win over the ‘Caps in this very competition.

Whoever does end up going through will likely have the toughest task facing the reigning Canadian Championship champions, but in these competitions, you need to beat the best to be the best.

Atletico Ottawa Ruben Del Campo
Photo Credit: Matt Zambonin

Match #2: Atletico Ottawa vs Valour FC

The second match in the preliminary round sees two more CPL sides face-off in Atletico Ottawa against Valour FC. The hosts in Ottawa might arguably be the favourites out of all the CPL sides to make it the furthest in the competition, thanks to their incredible recruitment ahead of the new season. New names Matteo de Brienne, Ballou Tabla, Rayane Yesli, and many more come into this Ottawa side to great fanfare. After their dramatic failure to make the CPL playoffs last year, Carlos Gonzalez and his team are making sure that Ottleti make up for their previous mistakes and push for everything this season with all their statement singings.

Valour FC, on the other hand, are in a somewhat similar position to Ottawa. After a disappointing 2023 CPL season where they finished last, Phil Dos Santos has made light work of completely overhauling the squad with various new names from across Canada and beyond. With such a new squad and a long away-day trip to start the season, it’s hard to predict what might happen for Valour in 2024. One thing for sure is that Dos Santos will not take this tie lightly, as he will be desperate to not repeat the same mistakes of last year’s shock loss to TSS Rovers in the first round of the competition.

Whoever wins this tie will have one of the clearest runs to the Semi-Final, with the possibility of facing either League1 or CPL opposition in the Quarter-Finals. Afterwards, it will be anyone’s game with the re-draw for the semis.

Match #3: Pacific FC vs Victoria Highlanders

The last match in the western seeds of the Canadian Championship sees the competitions first local derby as Langford’s Pacific FC match-up against League1 BC side Victoria Highlanders. Pacific FC have been another team that’s proven to be a surprised package in this competition historically, with them upsetting the Whitecaps in the 2021 edition of the tournament.

This year, however, they will need to do it with a half-gutted squad: star players Amer Didic and Manny Aparicio have left the Isle to seek greener pastures, while strikers Easton Ongaro and Djenairo Daniels leave a gaping hole in the Tridents attack. They will nevertheless feel confident going up against Victoria Highlanders, although they should take a page out of Valour’s book to ensure they don’t get embarrassed by League1 opposition as well.

In the same vein, Victoria Highlanders might want to take a page out of TSS Rovers’ book on how to upset CPL opposition. The Highlanders nicked the berth to the 2024 Canadian Championship from the Rovers on a dramatic last matchday in League1 BC, where the Highlanders came from behind to win the match at the death against the Rovers and seal themselves the League1 BC regular season title and entry into this competition for this upcoming edition. They will face some familiar faces as Pacific captain Josh Heard, midfielder Sean Young, and current Manager of Football and Player Development Jamar Dixon all once played for the Highlanders in their careers, making the anticipation for this Derby run even deeper.

As was the case with the Match #2, the winners of this tie will have one of the clearest shots to the semi’s facing the winner between Ottawa and Valour. And could we see another fairytale run from a League1 BC side like we did last year?

York United Molham Babouli
Photo Credit: John Jacques

Match #4: Forge FC vs York United

With one local derby in the west comes another local derby in the east as the 905 Derby between Forge FC and York United makes up our fourth match of the preliminary round. Forge FC will host what will be the 23rd encounter between these two sides. While Forge FC have historically been more successful in this derby, they will be wary of York United coming to Tim Hortons Field after failing to beat York twice at home last season. A Brem Soumaoro screamer gave York a 2-1 win in late May before fans were treated to a thrilling 3-3 draw in mid-August. Moreover, Forge FC will be without some key players after the departure of Woobens Pacius, Manjrekar James, and Rezart Rama, meaning Bobby Smyrniotis will have to pull something from deep within his players yet again to be able to go far in this competition.

Another change from last season is that York United will come into this match under new ownership. Game Plan Sports Group has chosen Martin Nash to continue under the helm as they look to transition into a era for the club. He will have to work with new names like Juan Cordova, Frank Sturing, and Oswaldo Leon. However, Nash will certaintly like to bring the same energy his team had last season, when they had the best away record in the CPL and often performed when everyone else had counted them out, to be able to upset their dreaded rivals in this competition.

Whoever wins this tie will go on to face last year’s finalists CF Montreal in the quarters, setting up either a rematch for Smyrniotis’ Forge side for a third year in a row or second-ever tie between York and Montreal, with the first coming way back in 2019 when both teams were under different names.

Match #5: HFX Wanderers vs CS Saint-Laurent

The Halifax Wanderers begin their Canadian Championship journey facing CS Saint-Laurent, the winner of the rebranded Ligue1 Quebec semi-pro provincial league. For Halifax, facing League1 opposition will be a familiar and welcome sight, as HFX have historically won all their ties against semi-pro opposition (Vaughan Azzurri in 2019, AS Blainville in 2021, and Guelph United in 2022). For Wanderers Head Coach Patrice Gheisar, he will be on the HFX side of this the tie as opposed to when his Azzurri side lost on away goals in 2019. It also gives him a great chance to be able to make it past the preliminary round after failing to do so last year when Halifax lost 3-1 to Atletico Ottawa. With a more stable pre-season awaiting him and some fresh faces that have excited the fans, this might be the year where the Wanderers live up to the ‘Dark Horses” billing that many were calling them after an impressive 2023.

As for CS Saint-Laurent, they will be looking to buck the trend against HFX and cause another Canadian cupset this year. Saint-Laurent did the double in last year’s Ligue1 Quebec, storming the league title by a margin of ten points and winning 2-0 in the final of the playoffs against CS Mont-Royal Outremont. The club swept the L1Q Awards with midfielder Safwane Mlah winning the MVP award, Kosta Maniatis winning the Golden Glove, and head coach Nicolas Razzaghi winning Manager of the Year. Saint-Laurent will have it all to play away from home in the Kitchen, but they will likely not let their opportunity go by so easily after consistently turning heads since joining the league back in 2022.

The winner of the tie will face the winner between Toronto FC and Simcoe County Rovers, meaning a potential all-League1 clash may occur, HFX could face two League1 sides in a row or there may be a BMO Field-ed night in one of these two teams’ future.

Match #6: Toronto FC vs Simcoe Country Rovers

Another all-Ontario affair rounds out the preliminary round of the Canadian Championship as MLS side Toronto FC face League1 Ontario champions Simcoe County Rovers.

Toronto FC fans will be hungry to see their team try to win the Voyageurs Cup once more after failing to win it in a proper tournament format since 2018 (not including the one-off Canadian Championship Final in 2020). Toronto has had a tough time as of late in the competition, failing to make the final twice in the last three years. They did make it in 2022, but lost on penalties to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Under the new management of John Herdman, TFC fans will be hoping to make all the way until the end in this year’s edition, beginning with Simcoe Country Rovers. This is the first time that Toronto have been in the preliminary round since the introduction of a preliminary round in the competition, meaning that they will not being pulling any punches against Simcoe County Rovers in hopes of winning it all this year.

The Rovers, on the other hand, will be making their very first appearence in the Canadian Championship after winning the League1 Ontario Playoffs last season. After finishing second in the regular season behind Scrosoppi FC, Simcoe County Rovers went on to beat Vaughan Azzuri 3-0 in the semi-final before conquering league champions Scrosoppi FC 4-2 in the final. Similar to Saint-Laurent, they too dominated the L1O Awards with then-head coach Jason Beckford winning Coach of the Year, former Forge FC and TFC II goalkeeper Baj Maan winning Golden Glove, and Cuban midfielder Orlendis Benítez Hernendez winning Midfielder of the Year. With arguably the biggest task out of all the teams, Rovers will be hoping to play David versus the Goliath that is Toronto FC in this first round.

Who Will Win?

The exciting 2024 edition of the Canadian Championship will kickstart on April 23rd to May 1st, when the Preliminary round takes place, before concluding on September 24th or 25th in the Grand Final. Will we see more shocking upsets by League1 opposition or will we see a CPL side take all the glory for the very first time? Will the Whitecaps make it a three-peat or will CF Montreal and TFC have something serious to say about that? Let us know your predictions in the comments!

Header Image Photo Credit: James Glezos

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *