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Can NCC champ be a legitimate CCL participant?

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As first reported in The 11 back on Nov. 27, the Canadian Soccer Association is set to change the format of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. FC Edmonton will face Toronto FC in one semifinal, while the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact will tussle in the other. The editorial stance from Nov. 27 about Canada needing a single-game Cup final, about a knock-out tournament being better than a round-robin format, still stands. Canada needs a proper Cup, not a round-robin setup filled with controversy and lame-duck games. And, to the TFC fan who thinks that a great rivalry already exists between Toronto and Montreal — that the tournament will lose something if the Reds and Impact don’t meet this year — give your head a shake. Vancouver and Montreal have a far more heated rivalry, built through years of USL play, than the one that exists between the Impact and TFC. That will change when the Impact joins MLS in 2012, but not yet. And FC Edmonton can use what it will market as a glamour match-up with TFC early in its schedule, which will help the promotional push for the new club. (It is worth noting that, as of Tuesday, FC Edmonton officials had not yet received word from the CSA about any change to the tournament format). But, as much as The 11 enjoys the Voyageurs Cup, and believes its important to have some kind of national championship, we’re not so sure about continuing the practice of allowing the champ to automatically grab Canada’s lone qualifying-round spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. Should the team that represents Canada be decided in a couple of games? Or should it go to the team that demonstrates long-term success over a season? Imagine if FC Edmonton were to somehow snatch a championship through a couple of ties decided by penalties, yet struggled to make the playoffs in its first NASL season. Is it a worthy representative? With three teams in MLS by 2012, the CSA will have a better mechanism to measure the Canadian teams — first-division league play. Really, if Canada continues to have only one spot in the CCL, by 2012 that spot should go to the Canadian club that finishes highest on the MLS table. Ideally, the Canadian Soccer Association will eventually be successful in convincing CONCACAF that Canada should have two spots. This isn’t out of line for where Canada ranks in the region — an automatic spot in the round-robin would go to the top Canadian side in MLS; a second spot, which could be in the qualifying stages, would go to the NCC champ (or finalist, if one MLS team has both the best league record and NCC title). If the CSA wants to go to the knockout format, it has to push for a second spot. Obviously, because qualifying for the CCL begins smack-dab in the middle of the soccer season in Canada, to institute such a change would take a couple of years. Our 2011 champ will immediately begin play in the 2011 qualifying rounds of the CCL. So, to make the change, we’d need to make sure we’d have a mechanism in place to reward the best MLS team in 2012 with a spot in the 2013 CCL. Hopefully, by then, Canada’s status in the CCL will change.

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