The Canadian Championship will expand to 13 teams in 2019 with the addition of seven Canadian Premier League clubs.
They join Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps from Major League Soccer, Ottawa Fury FC from the United Soccer League and a team from both League 1 Ontario and the Premiere Ligue du Soccer de Quebec (PLSQ).
As defending champion, Toronto will enter the five-round competition in the semifinals, one round after Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa join in.
All three MLS teams joined in the semifinal round in 2018, when the field was just six teams.
Four of the CPL teams will enter the competition at the first hurdle while the remaining three will come in at the second. A Canadian Soccer Association spokesman said that was done because there needed to be a split between the first two rounds with 13 teams competing.
“Without a competition result to provide seeding, the timelines under which the clubs became professional clubs in membership of Canada Soccer provided a fair basis for placement,” the spokesman said.
The five-round, 24-match competition kicks off May 15 with the two-legged final set for Sept. 18 and 25. The tournament winner hoists the Voyageurs Cup and will represent Canada in the 2020 Scotiabank Champions League.
“The Canadian Championship has evolved into a true domestic cup competition with multiple levels of entrants all battling to secure a coveted Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League spot,” Canadian Soccer Association president Steven Reed said in a statement.
The CPL is scheduled to kick off its inaugural season in April.
“Our vision is to create a solid foundation that will continue and grow the game and help Canadians be a force on the world stage. The Canadian Championship presents another incredible opportunity for our players to excel and showcase their abilities at the club level,” CPL commissioner David Clanachan said in a statement.
Asked if the new league had any issue with the two-tiered entry in 2019, a CPL spokesman said “schedule” questions should be directed to the Canadian Soccer Association.
Each of the 2019 Canadian Championship rounds will be contested in a home-and-away format.
The first qualifying round, to be played May 15 and 22, will feature six teams: PLSQ’s AS Blainville and League 1 Ontario’s Vaughan Azzurri plus the CPL’s Pacific FC (Victoria), Cavalry FC (Calgary), York 9 FC (north Toronto) and HFX Wanderers FC (Halifax).
The four CPL teams that start in the first round got their Canada Soccer membership in 2018. Blainville, part of last year’s field, and Vaughan cannot not be drawn together in the qualifying round.
The second round, to be played June 5 and 12, features the first-round winners and FC Edmonton, Forge FC (Hamilton), and Valour FC (Winnipeg).
FC Edmonton gets a bye to the second round as a team returning to the Canadian Championship as a CPL member. Forge FC and Valour FC enter in the second round by virtue of acquiring their Canada Soccer professional club status in 2017.
The Montreal Impact, Vancouver Whitecaps and Ottawa Fury FC will come into the competition in the third round, scheduled for July 10 and 24, facing the three second-round winners.
The three third-round winners will join Toronto in the semifinals, Aug. 7 and 14.
Each of the two-legged rounds will be determined by aggregate score over the two legs. In the event of a tie, away goals will be used to determine the winner. In the event that does not decide the outcome, the game will go straight to penalty kicks.