High stakes and high value: Canadian Championship matches begin tonight

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Maybe it’s just the blinding glare of distance, but I always got the feeling that the Canadian Championship competition means more to Canada’s professional teams than the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup means to teams from south of the countries’ shared border.

For one thing, this is the path of least resistance into CONCACAF Champions League; the Amway Canadian Championship winner gains a berth in the regional club team tournament.

The relevant math represents one carrot on this stick. Only four clubs will compete for the Voyagers Cup and the Champions League spot: Canada’s three MLS clubs (Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal) plus Edmonton from the NASL.

But it’s more than that. Canadian clubs seem to share a genuine desire to stake a claim as the country’s top professional side. It’s a contrast to U.S. clubs, where the degree of actual desire to lift the comparable trophy covers a wide spectrum. Some clubs a gung-ho for the U.S. Open Cup; some see it as a necessary distraction.

Canadian Championship games begin tonight (the schedule is here), with the semi-final second legs set for May 9.

Vancouver manager Martin Rennie made some news yesterday, choosing to rest key players ahead of this week’s MLS contest. Right back Young-Pyo Lee, center back Jay DeMerit and striker Camilo Sanvezzo all remained in Vancouver as the team left for tonight’s match in Edmonton.