Feisty Finals: Hamilton Forge FC win physical first leg

Forge FC

The inaugural CPL season culminated in a particularly feisty first leg of the finals. It was a wild and exciting first leg where Forge FC and Cavalry FC — arguably the league’s most heated rivalry and the runaway leaders across the spring and fall seasons — fought tooth and nail for a result in the first leg.

Feisty First Leg, First Half

The game kicked off after plenty of fanfare to celebrate the end of the inaugural season. Flags were unfurled and fireworks were set off, but the real spectacle was yet to come.

There were a few tough fouls throughout the first half, but the powder keg really kicked off in the 24th minute. Oliver Minatel of Cavalry was shown the game’s first card, and the heat turned up from there. 

Forge piled on the pressure, hitting the bar through a Kyle Bekker striker from distance and later, a Daniel Krutzen free kick. 

It was in the 37th minute that the game was broken wide open. Forge broke through on goal only to be stopped by the last man back — Cavalry’s Joel Waterman. Waterman was judged to have handled in the box and was shown a red card for denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

League leading goalscorer Tristan Borges stepped up to the spot to take the penalty. Borges took confidently but Marco Carducci came up with a huge save in the Cavalry goal. 

Forge did get the breakthrough late in first half stoppage time. Chris Nanco brilliantly kept the ball in on the left flank and delivered an incisive pass to Borges. This time, the young Canadian made no mistake. 

Tactical Changes

Throughout the first half Forge broke out of their typical mold, pressing Cavalry much higher than in their previous meetings. This high press became more intense in the second half against 10 men, with the home side pressing with incredible intensity.

In possession Forge tried to lure the visitors into their typical high press. To their credit, Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side kept a compact 4-4-1 in defense, trying to force Forge to play through their lines. The feisty first leg forced both managers to show their tactical nous, and the CPL’s two standout clubs put on a show. 

Borges Sees Red

Forge continued to press Cavalry as the half wore on. In the 68th minute, the game was flipped on its head yet again. Forge FC attacker Tristan Borges was fouled at half by Cavalry substitute Jay Wheeldon. The two tangled and Borges kicked out at Wheeldon, leading to a Red Card.

With both sides at 10 men neither could affect the score any further. Forge come away 1-0 winners in leg one, but Cavalry are confident heading to Spruce Meadows. 

Keeping Their Heads Up

Following the match both managers were feeling positive after the feisty first leg. Tommy Wheeldon Jr looked favorably at the result. “We have a saying around our club: Adapt and Overcome. It wasn’t the best scenario but we’re still in the tie.”

When asked about how he addressed his team following a sending off and late goal in the first half, Wheeldon pulled no punches. “Suffer. In football you have to suffer and be prepared to suffer… We knew, with 10 men, that game could’ve got out of hand.”

The game didn’t get out of hand, though. The familiarity between the two teams has led to some interesting tactical adjustments. Wheeldon was frank about the nature of playing against Forge in Hamilton.

“If you look at stats when we’ve come here we’ve generally had possession of the ball, and I think that suits Forge… we actually flipped the switch a little bit and we’re prepared to let them have the ball.” Cavalry certainly executed their plan well, taking a good result into the second leg. The Calgary side have put themselves in a good position to raise the North Star Shield next Saturday.

Forge also introduced some tactical changes, playing Borges centrally and moving Elimane Cissé out to the right wing. Cissé was primarily used as a pressing option, looking to win the ball back high up the pitch and allowing right back Giuliano Frano to overlap in possession. 

On the other side of the pitch, Kwame Awuah and Chris Nanco caused all kinds of problems for Cavalry. Nanco’s fine footwork led to the Borges goal, and Bobby Smyrniotis was gushing about them after the match. “[Chris and Kwame] were excellent. Simply excellent … on both sides of the ball.”

Looking Ahead to the Second Leg

Looking ahead to leg two, there are some personnel changes to make. Waterman is suspended for Cavalry, who have ample cover at the central defense position through Zator and Wheeldon.

Replacing Borges, though, is a different task. Smyrniotis wasn’t pleased with the decision but kept things positive.

“I Can’t really comment on [the red card]. Easiest thing to do is watch the video and its clear. That’s the most I can say.”

When asked about replacing his leading scorer, the Forge FC coach was confident. “It changes the person but it doesn’t change the dynamics. He’s a player now who has scored 13 goals for us … we’ve got other guys who can come in and do the exact same job.” 

One possible wrinkle for leg two is the potential to appeal the red card. Whether there is a formal appeal process or not isn’t clear, but Smyrniotis intends to pursue it. 

“If there’s a process to do it you obviously do it. Review the video and if the video shows there’s nothing there, then you owe it to the player, you owe it to the league, you owe it to everyone that one of the best players in this league is playing in the last game”

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