Canadians join chase for the Cup

Canadian footballers primed to make their debut in the Amway Canadian Championship.

A handful of Canadian footballers could make their Amway Canadian Championship debut this May when the chase for the Voyageurs Cup begins amongst the four top soccer teams in the country. All four teams will feature a mix of returning and incoming stars, with three of those teams having just completed their final roster before the start of Major League Soccer’s 2012 campaign and the fourth Canadian team making its final adjustments in the North American Soccer League’s pre-season action.

Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and now Impact Montréal are all part of Major League Soccer, with regular-season matches scheduled from March to October. FC Edmonton, meanwhile, plays in the North American Soccer League, with matches to be played from April to September.

The 2012 Amway Canadian Championship runs 2-23 May on consecutive Wednesday nights. The two legs of the semi-final stage are 2 and 9 May while the two legs of the championship final are 16 and 23 May. In the semi-final stage, Vancouver faces Edmonton and Toronto faces Montréal.

In the first four years of the Amway Canadian Championship (2008 to 2011), 75 of the 204 footballers that participated in the competition were Canadian. The four Canadians that participated in all four years were Nana Attakora with Toronto FC (now unattached after finishing the 2011 campaign with the San Jose Earthquakes), Simon Gatti with the Impact de Montréal (now the coach of the Impact’s U-14 academy team), Nevio Pizzolitto with the Impact (unattached), and David Testo with the Impact (also unattached).

IMPACT MONTRÉAL: PATRICE BERNIER & EVAN JAMES
The Impact will feature a fresh new lineup in the Amway Canadian Championship after joining Major League Soccer in the off-season. The team’s big Canadian signing was Patrice Bernier, who returns home to Canada (and Montréal) after playing in Norway, Germany and Denmark. Now 32 years old, the midfielder from Brossard, QC (Montréal’s neighbouring suburb) will help the Impact try to win its second championship since the competition’s debut in 2008. Bernier made his Major League Soccer debut on Saturday 10 March in the Impact-Whitecaps season opener.

Toronto-born striker Evan James is the other Canadian yet to make his Amway Canadian Championship debut. The 20-year old James is new to the Impact lineup, although he did not feature in the club’s MLS debut on 10 March. James was recently called into the Canadian men’s U-23 pre-tournament camp in advance of the 2012 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying tournament (22 March to 2 April).

TORONTO FC: ASHTONE MORGAN & KEITH MAKUBUYA
Ashtone Morgan missed his chance last year to participate in the Amway Canadian Championship, but will surely make his debut with Toronto FC in 2012. The 21-year old Toronto-born fullback made 14 appearances in Major League Soccer in 2011. He made his Toronto FC debut in 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League (19 October 2010) and then made eight more appearances in the first part of 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League (preliminary and group stages). Also late last year, Morgan made his international “A” debut with Canada in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers (he recorded an assist in his 7 October debut in St. Lucia).

The 19-year old striker Keith Makubuya is also on the Toronto FC roster for the start of the 2012 campaign. Makubuya of St. Catharines, ON made his MLS debut in March 2011 against the Whitecaps, two months after taking part in his first Canadian national youth project with then U-20 coach Valerio Gazzola. Makubuya also came up through the Ontario provincial program, winning a silver medal at the Canadian All Stars U-14 competition in 2007 (with coach Ruben Flores) and a gold medal at the Canadian All Stars U-16 competition in 2009 (with coach Joey Lombardi).

FC EDMONTON: MICHAEL COX, ELVIR GIGOLAJ, MATTHEW LAM, MICHAL MISIEWICZ, DAVID MONSALVE, JOHN SMITS
With FC Edmonton yet to finalize its 2012 roster before the NASL season begins on 7 April, a number of Canadian footballers are still making their case to win a regular playing job with coach Harry Sinkgraven. From the team’s first pre-season match on 10 March, forward Michael Cox, attacking midfielder Elvir Gigolaj and midfielder Matt Lam are all hopeful Amway Canadian Championship debutants for 2012.

Cox, a 19-year old footballer from Calgary, AB, has been on the FC Edmonton roster since 2010, although he didn’t get the chance to dress for either of the two Canadian Championship matches in 2011. Gigolaj of London, ON, meanwhile, is a new signing after his successful career with St. Mary’s University in Canadian Interuniversity Sport. The 22-year-old Lam of Edmonton, AB was on the Edmonton roster in 2010, but went on loan to play in Japan in 2011.

As for the three goalkeepers, David Monsalve, Michal Misiewicz and John Smits would all love to get the start against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on 2 May. The 23-year old Monsalve is the most experienced of the three goalkeepers, having spent the last two seasons in Finland. Monsalve was just 18 years old when he made his MLS debut with the expansion Toronto FC in 2007.

While Misiewicz hails from Calgary, AB, Smits comes from Mississauga, ON. Misiewicz has had stints in Germany, Poland and England before coming home to Alberta. He is currently in Florida with the Canadian U-23 pre-tournament camp. Smits, meanwhile, comes to the professional ranks after a five-year career with the University of Toronto in Canadian Interuniversity Sport.

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC: BRYCE ALDERSON
Two-time Canadian U-17 Player of the Year Bryce Alderson was signed to a professional contract at the end of the 2011 campaign. Still only 18 years old, Alderson has joined the Canadian men’s U-23 pre-tournament camp in Florida this week. The Kitchener-born midfielder joined the Whitecaps Residency program in 2010 after previously playing for his hometown Kitchener Spirit. He helped Canada win a silver medal at the 2011 CONCACAF Men’s Under-17 Championship in Montego Bay, JAM.

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