Championship facelift

STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:22 AM ET

Changes are coming to the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.

Unless something truly unexpected happens at the Canadian Soccer Association's annual general meeting, slated for May 14-16, the 2010 NCC will be the last one to have just three teams competing for the national title.

This year's edition of the tournament kicks off Wednesday night with defending champion Toronto FC hosting the Montreal Impact at BMO Field.

With FC Edmonton set to join the new North American Soccer League in 2011 -- at the same time that the Vancouver Whitecaps will be moving out of NASL to MLS -- there will be four major pro teams in Canada. And, even though FC Edmonton's ownership group has not been formally approved by the CSA, the association is already looking to revamp the tournament's format for 2011.

Basically, Edmonton needs to make a formal application to be recognized as a major pro team by the CSA.

Even before the rise of the new franchise, the CSA knew that the format would change.

THREE-YEAR TRIAL

When the tournament was hatched in 2008, the executives agreed that the current round-robin format would be given a three-year trial period, which expires at the end of the 2010 NCC.

And, last year showed soccer fans that the straight round-robin is a problematic format. TFC won the championship by lambasting Montreal 6-1 in its final game, while Vancouver, who was leading the championship on points and goal difference going into the game, could only sit and watch as a reserve team put out by Montreal gave up goal after goal.

Montreal sat their starters because they had no hope of winning the Canadian title and had an important league game against, you guessed it, Vancouver a few days later.

"A lot of people around the country questioned how Montreal went about that game, including many within our club," was the reaction from Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi to the great Montreal lay-down.

The teams have a gentlemen's agreement in place to not follow Montreal's farcical start-the-scrubs example in 2010.

But the real problem is that, in a round-robin format, there is no true championship game to decide the winner. There is no cup final. Now, with four teams in the tourney, the CSA could adopt a new format that allows for a true final.

The fact that the field will increase in 2011 will also help in the CSA's long-standing back-and-forth with CONCACAF over how the Canadian champion is placed in the Champions League. Right now, the winner has to go into a qualifying round.

As the tournament grows, and CONCACAF sees more fans and teams in the country, Canada's argument grows stronger.

What this country really needs is the winner of the 2010 NCC to make a run like Montreal did two seasons ago.


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