The first leg of the inaugural Canadian Premier League finals kicks off in Hamilton, Ontario, on Saturday at Tim Horton’s Field.
Hosts Forge FC and regular season champs Cavalry FC have met 7 times already in the short life of the CPL. Results are evenly split, with each team winning three times and a single draw. Forge was the only team to beat Cavalry at Spruce Meadows in CPL competition this year.
High Hopes for Forge
Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis was positive when asked about taking on the spring and fall champions.
“We had a period over the last month where we knew where we were going. We knew which dates were going to be the most important: October 26 and November 2nd,” Smyrniotis said. “We’ve had to keep our guys sharp and keep them healthy.”
Although Forge do go into this game with most of their team healthy, defensive stalwarts Dominic Samuel and Bertrand Owundi will be suspended for the first leg. Smyrniotis, though, remains bullish on his team.
“Our goal was to play for a championship, and this is where we are right now,” he said.
Forge has made its way to the championship on the backs of great performances from all of its players. Smyrniotis talked about the CONCACAF League experience as being a galvanizing moment for the team.
“A lot of players in this league last year weren’t playing at a professional level,” Smyrniotis said. “We’ve seen the success that our team has had on the field both domestically and internationally in CONCACAF league.”
Smyrniotis also went on to praise his team’s performance in that competition.
“I’ll always go back to those two series with Antigua and Olimpia and they make us stronger,” he continued. “Because we’re fielding 10 Canadian players in each one of those games and seven of them weren’t professionals last year.”
Some of those young professionals, like Tristan Borges and goalkeeper Triston Henry, have been key contributors for Forge. When asked if the occasion was giving anyone nerves, Henry praised the Hamilton crowd, calling them “the best fans in the league.”
The Hamilton fans will have a chance to try and defend that claim at the first leg of the Canadian Premier League finals.
A Budding Rivalry
The previous meetings between the Forge and Cavalry have already created a rivalry narrative before this game.
Of particular interest was the heated brawl after the second leg of the Canadian Championship. After that game, it was alleged that Forge assistant coach Peter Reynders used racist language directed at Cavalry striker Jordan Brown. Reynders served a 45-day ban but appealed the charge with Canada Soccer.
Forge FC captain Kyle Bekker downplayed the tension between the two teams.
“No [these teams don’t hate each other]. We each hold ourselves in high regard,” Bekker said. “Neither team wants to give an inch. We’ve had some battles so far this season and I think that it all comes together.”
Regardless of whether the two teams ‘hate’ each other or not, the first leg is shaping up to be magnificent.
Cavalry dominated the spring season, coming out as runaway winners. Things were tighter in the fall competition, but Cavalry pipped Forge in the last weeks of the season, finishing a point ahead.
Cavalry Ride On
The Calgary-based Cavalry is poised to make a clean sweep of the inaugural season awards. After the spring and fall titles, a chance at the inaugural trophy is exciting for the players and coach.
“It’s remarkable to be here,” Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said. “It’s been the culmination of a lot of great work behind the scenes not just from our club but for the whole [league] here.”
Cavalry FC captain Nikolas Ledgerwood is a game-time decision for the visiting side. Ledgerwood was in training this week and was excited when speaking to the media.
“We didn’t come here just to come here. We want to make a statement like we’ve done all year,” Ledgerwood said. “Spring season winners, fall season winners, combined winners. Nobody can take that away from us and we want to add to that.”
Cavalry will have every chance to further make their mark on CPL history over the two-legged final. Individual honours are at stake as well, though. Golden Boot leader Tristan Borges and chaser Dominique Malonga will vie for the combined total scoring lead over the final two games. When asked about the individual honours, neither said that was the focus.
“I aim to win the championship,” Malonga said. “We try to be champions, and after we think about other things.”
Borges said much the same.
“Any player that gets goals and assists you are looking at it as an individual, but for me, its focus on the championship and trying to win,” he said.
Both teams are poised to try and be the first to raise the North Star Shield, the newly revealed champions’ trophy for the Canadian Premier League finals.