Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC hosts North American Soccer League side Montreal Impact tonight while  in the first match of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, the Canadian version of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Well Sort of.

The Canadian Championship is, in a lot of ways what the US Open Cup could be. The three Canadian professional teams (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver Whitecaps) play a six-game home and away series against each other for the Voyageurs Cup trophy. There is, however, much more at stake than a trophy. There are bragging rights for an entire nation and a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League.

The main difference in the American and Canadian Cup competitions is that the three Canadian teams, fans and cities in general just don’t like each other. One team in MLS, one team coming in to MLS next season and one team rumored to be entering the league the year after that, but the differences between the sides mean nothing when it comes to the NCC. A tournament that brings the best out of it’s teams. this is something that cannot be said of the US Open Cup.

The USOC is played in front of spartan crowds (just over 3,000 saw Tuesday Nights USOC match at Red Bull Arena and just over 1,200 saw the Kansas City Colorado match last week) and nonexistent TV and media coverage and usually contested by sides that are resting key players for their league matches. The Nutrilite Canadian Championship, on the other hand averaged 90% capacity across the three venues and features national rivalry, televised games and a more condensed schedule (The NCC will be contested over six consecutive Wednesdays).

“It’s something like an unofficial Canadian championship, since we don’t have our own league up here,” Toronto FC Director, Business Operations Paul Beirne said at the start of last years tournament“We take that very seriously, and we know Montreal and Vancouver do, too.”

TFC Captain and Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario seems to agree.

“It’s a tournament that’s a source of pride for our fans and for us here in Toronto and it’s a tournament that I think we should win” DeRo told “So it starts Wednesday against a tough opponent.”

Tough indeed. Montreal Impact won the first edition of the NCC in 2008 and used the success to propel themselves through the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League and win the North American Division 2 Championship the following season (Against the third Canadian side and future MLS team Vancouver Whitecaps).

The rivalry extends onto the field and comes complete with controversy. Vancouver had all but wrapped up the 2008 NCC, but on the final day of the tournament Toronto had to win big against Montreal who had no shot at the Championship. Impact manager Marc Dos Santos rested the majority of his first team and the result was a 6-1 TFC victory. Vancouver was fuming as they had been edged out of the title on goal difference. There is bad blood between these three teams.

“I anticipate Montreal is going to try and come out with a 0-0 tie, or 1-0 game and take it back to Montreal and hope for the best in terms of (goal) aggregate,” De Rosario told the Toronto Sun.

Wednesday’s match doesn’t exactly come at the best time for Toronto FC.

“The schedule hasn’t really been great for us, especially when you have so many new guys in here trying to learn how to play together,” TFC boss Preki told the media Tuesday “When you play so many games so close, it doesn’t give you much time to heal, either. But it is what it is.”

The Impact is only two games into the defense of their Division 2 title, losing on the road 2-0 to the Austin Aztex, and grabbing a point late in a 1-1 tie against Portland Timbers in their home opener Sunday at Saputo Stadium.

Montreal is an experienced side and they know what it takes to into Toronto’s BMO Field and get points.

“We are feeling confident right now and we are going to Toronto to perform well,” said Impact captain Nevio Pizzolitto. “We are not taking them lightly because they have good skilled players…”

“It will be a major game,” Dos Santos added “We are expecting a big challenge because two champion teams will match up: Toronto, the defending Canadian champions and the Impact, league champions last year.”

Look for Impact forward Roberto Brown to test the makeshift TFC defense early and for DeRo to come through for the Reds late. Humble American prediction… 1-1.

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