Toronto FC’s road to a third consecutive Canadian championship might be its most difficult yet.
For the first time, the two-time defending Voyageurs Cup winners could face a fellow member of Major League Soccer in the competition.
The Reds will also have to try to three-peat minus the man who has won the George Gross Memorial Trophy as tournament MVP the past two years — departed captain Dwayne De Rosario.
TFC has scored just three times in the five games since De Rosario was traded to New York — just once in its past three contests.
The offence might get a chance to find its form in the opener of the 2011 competition though, as FC Edmonton of the North American Soccer League, is considered the weakest side and is making its tournament debut.
The teams will meet again in the second leg of the home-and-away semifinal at BMO Field on May 4.
MLS expansionists Vancouver — who thrashed the Reds 4-2 in their first league match last month — take on the Montreal Impact, who won the Canadian championship in 2008 and will join MLS in 2012.
Semifinal wins by Toronto and Vancouver would set up a rather interesting home-and-away final set for late May.
The winner would go through to the CONCACAF Champions League. Toronto made it through to the group stage of the CONCACAF tourney last year and probably could have gone further had former head coach Preki not seemed to consider the matches far secondary to league contests.
New Toronto head coach Aron Winter said last week that will not be the case this time around, either now at the Canadian championship, or later, should TFC advance once again.
Winter said he does not value one type of competition above another and intends to put out his best lineup for every game.
But with a league match in Seattle looming on Saturday, the Edmonton rematch next Wednesday followed by another league battle three days later, Winter will surely be cautious with banged up players like Alen Stevanovic, Nana Attakora and Alan Gordon, who returned to the lineup in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Columbus.
Expect to see Winter give a lot of time to exciting young attackers Oscar Cordon (man of the match in his only start so far this season) and Joao Plata, the tiny striker who has put opponents on their heels with his speed and ability with the ball.
Both Edmonton and Toronto have a heavy Dutch influence with former Dutch international standout Winter helming the Reds and fellow Dutchman Harry Sinkgraven manning the Edmonton bench.
Both squads also employ players from the Netherlands, including Javier Martina, one of Toronto’s most dangerous forwards.
Edmonton, in its first year of competition after being founded in 2010, has won two of its first three NASL matches on the road and will surely receive raucous support at Commonwealth Stadium for its first meaningful contest at home.
Canadian Eddy Sidra was a trialist with Toronto in the preseason and will be out to prove something after that experience did not end to his satisfaction.
TEAMS CONTESTING 2011 VOYAGEURS CUP
Year formed: 2010
Canadian championships: 0
Stadium: Foote Field (5,000 capacity)
Skinny: In first year of competition but off to nice start in North American Soccer League, winning two-of-first-three. Hope to join Major League Soccer in future, following in footsteps of Toronto FC, Vancouver and Montreal. Will face TFC at Commonwealth Stadium.
Players to watch: Canadians Kyle Porter, Eddy Sidra, Shaun Saiko and Alex Surprenant and Dutch keeper Rein Baart.
Year formed: 1992
Canadian championships: 1
Stadium: Saputo Stadium (13,034 capacity)
Skinny: Won inaugural Canadian championship in 2008 and have had more success in the CONCACAF Champions League than TFC. Will join MLS in 2012. Get tremendous fan support. Have not won a game at this competition since 2008.
Players to watch: Ex-Red Ali Gerba, captain Nevio Pizzolitto, keeper Bill Gaudette, midfielder Leonardo Di Lorenzo.
Year formed: 2009
Canadian championships: 0
Stadium: Empire Field (27,528 capacity)
Skinny: Lost 2009 competition to TFC on goal differential. Will move to B.C. Place once it is renovated. Off to one win, three draw, three loss start in first year of MLS competition. Will miss American defender Jay DeMerit for at least opening match due to injury.
Players to watch: Eric Hassli, striker Camilio, Davide Chiumiento, keeper Jay Nolly.
Year formed: 2006
Canadian championships: 2
Stadium: BMO Field (23,000 capacity)
Skinny: Have won past two Voyageurs Cups, the only two trophies in franchise history. Though revamped from the front office through the roster, the Reds are still the favourites to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.
Players to watch: Javier Martina, Maicon Santos, Alan Gordon, Julian de Guzman, Oscar Cordon, keeper Stefan Frei.