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    A great chance ... at a silly cup


    So what do you do when the thing you really love leads directly and ultimately to a hollow farce that is pretty much a waste of everybody’s time?

    Yeah. All us 40-something divorcees and singles all just had the same thought at the same time, didn’t we?

    Ah, but it is not affairs of the heart I wish to speak of this morning. Rather, it is Mexican soccer side Pachuca, and their 0-2 loss to Liga de Quito of Ecuador, last night in Tokyo in the semifinal of the Club World Cup.


    On the one hand:

    This is one of the silliest and least-needed soccer competitions on the planet.

    On the other hand:

    This is the reason why there is a CONCACAF Champions League. By extension, it’s the ultimate goal of our beloved Voyageurs Cup Canadian championship tournament.

    Up until now, I’ve had plenty of fun ripping and writing off the Club World Cup – and it has never done anything whatsoever to defend itself.

    It all began simply enough. Once a year, just as winter was getting all grabby with the northern temperate zones, the UEFA Champions League winner and South American Copa Libertadores champs got whisked off to Japan to play one game for presumed global glory – fattening a lot of bank accounts and really not proving much of anything.

    A single jet-lagged exhibition game equals a legitimate world championship? No.

    And then FIFA president Sepp Blatter – inexplicably – agreed. Blatter was at the height of his global campaign to reduce the number of soccer games. He was threatening Europe’s top soccer nations with expulsion from the World Cup if they didn’t cut the number of teams in their top leagues. Wisely, the Europeans ignored him. Absolutely nothing happened.

    But somewhere in a jangled layover in Manila or Tegucigalpa of Brazzaville, Blatter got to feeling the Club World Cup didn’t actually include the world. So he got his strong-arm squad to frog-march the club champions of CONCACAF, Asia, Oceania and Africa off to Japan as well. They play off against each other, and the winners get fed to the Europeans and South Americans, who prevail and face each other in the final – as always.

    There’s no way anyone can win here! Even if there were an upset, would anyone really believe that the last surviving club in Africa or Guatemala is actually better than Manchester United?

    And then … the Canada thing happened.

    CONCACAF remodelled its top club cup on the UEFA Champions League – and Canada was awarded a place on the dance card. Our three (count ‘em, three!) pro soccer clubs hustled into an unsuspecting boardroom, and emerged with a rudimentary – and hugely entertaining – Canadian championship.

    For Toronto FC fans, I think the three most-anticipated matches of 2008 were opening day, and the Voyageurs Cup visits of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact. Certainly the final night – Jeff Cunningham whiffing a 12-foot putt and Montreal escaping with a draw … and the cup – is the biggest on-field blow in TFC history.

    Worked out great for Montreal, though! They blew through the CONCACAF preliminary stages, and are set to stand tall and proud in the quarterfinals in February.

    Understand. MLS, right now, is a league where most teams are equal to the point of anonymity. Fans don’t grab the newly released schedule with sweaty palms, breathlessly wondering when Chivas USA is coming to town. But Vancouver and Montreal? Those are the games the fans are dreaming of as another sagging season of snow settles sluggishly on the great white north.

    Here’s the romance. Here are the rivalries that count. New England, Chicago, DC United – yeah, those matter. But Montreal? Revenge!!!

    Columbus are MLS champions! Nobody up here cares!

    Every fan in all three competing Canadian cities wants to win the Voyaguers Cup. Heck, it’s a trophy designed by fans, donated by fans. If the MLS Cup ever found its way up here, that would be amazing yep howdy you betchum. But for now, our winter soccer dreams are made of humbler stuff.

    But then what? Montreal has certainly proved a gallop in the CONCACAF Champions League can capture the collective imagination. It doesn’t get you into MLS, but that’s a different wheeze for another day.

    Imagine … if the Impact … won the thing! A year from now, in Japan, they would play a single match against a fellow champion from Africa, Asia or Oceania. And if they won – Real Madrid? Boca Juniors? Chelsea? Flamengo?

    And that’s about as far and as good as it gets. Because if they then pulled a galactic upset or two, all you’d ever hear about is jet lag and fixture backlog and second-string lineups and how this “cup” is really just a cash-grab and thanks for coming in, Montreal, but we all know what really happened here, right?

    The Club World Cup is still the same farcical waste of jet fuel it ever was, in other words.

    But – and here’s the Canada fan winning out over the global footy critic – someday it might be OUR farcical waste of jet fuel. And those Voyageurs Cup games certainly break up the monotonous wave of faceless MLS side after faceless MLS side briefly fluttering in the plastic green garden of BMO Field.

    In that sense, I love it – even if I still kind of want it gone.

    Truly strange the turns one’s perceptions can be forced to take.


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