To a casual viewer, a soccer match needs to have a good tempo, drama, and most importantly, goals. To a casual viewer, Forge FC vs. Atlético Ottawa on June 25, 2023, is a work of art. Eventual North Star Cup champions Forge did not look it entering this game, coming off losses in four of their last five. A side with a plethora of attacking options, they were only able to conjure up two goals in that stretch. On the other side, Atlético entered Tim Hortons Field with a nasty record of their own to correct, losing their prior three matchups against the Hamilton-based side, including the 2022 CPL Final. With neither team experiencing much of an offensive outburst in the lead-up to their late-June meeting, there was no telling what the crowd of nearly 7,000 was in for.
The game’s scoring took absolutely no time to get started. OneSoccer commentator Adam Jenkins was unable to even introduce his commentary booth partner before Gabriel Antinoro gave Ottawa the lead less than 30 seconds in. After Forge defender Malik Owolabi-Belewu played the ball into touch in his own half, veteran Carl Haworth acted quickly. He sent a long, powerful throw into Antinoro’s feet, as the 19-year-old battled his way through two defenders before extending his right leg and elegantly finishing over a sprawled Triston Henry. The second-fastest goal in CPL history put the Hamilton crowd into shock as they were down 1-0 before they could get comfortable. Forge responded swiftly with a goal of their own to tie it… but not through their own play. Innocent ball movement around the Atlético backline went awry as defender MacDonald Niba sent a lengthy pass back to goalkeeper Nathan Ingham that got past him and rolled into an empty net to tie the game 1-1, just three minutes in. The crowd and commentary crew in disbelief at the start they had just witnessed, it wasn’t over yet.
Eight minutes after the tying goal, an Aboubacar Sissoko lobbed through ball attempt fell short and into the feet of Ottawa’s Maxim Tissot. The left-back glanced at his keeper, before sending his pass far too lightly for the away team’s second crucial passing error in the first 11 minutes. Forge forward Woobens Pacius pounced on the misplayed ball, as he chipped it toward the penalty spot where Terran Campbell was waiting to slot it home and give his side the lead. Three error-riddled goals to begin the game, quality was on display when Forge extended their lead in the 31st minute. In a comfortable spell of possession, the ball worked itself back to captain Kyle Bekker on the left wing. He placed a perfectly weighted ball in behind, made better by a brilliant touch by Tristan Borges. Borges sent an inviting lob to the back post where Campbell waited to bag his second goal of the day. That brought the game to its halftime break, a much-needed breather for everyone involved. Atlético Ottawa made three changes entering the second half, bringing on Gianni Dos Santos, Zakaria Bahous, and Jean-Aniel Assi. After the changes, just 18 minutes into the second frame, Ottawa made the first step of their comeback. Forward Sam Salter won a free kick just outside of the box, and up stepped Maxim Tissot. The 30-year-old more than made up for his earlier gaffe as he placed his in-swinging free kick just beyond the reach of Henry, off the post and in to shrink Forge’s lead to one. Separated, once again, by only eight minutes, Ottawa found their equalizer in the 72nd minute, this time with special thanks to manager Carlos González’s halftime adjustments. From strong build-up play, the ball was worked to the edge of Forge’s area, and Gianni Dos Santos did the rest. After he worked it out of his feet, the Dutch forward released a cannonball of a strike past Henry and tied the game at three apiece. Now with six goals between the two Ontario teams, this game was bound to have a late winner, and it did. 20-year-old Kwasi Poku showed his class in the 81st minute as he lofted in a cross from the corner of the 18-yard area to Pacius, who got up high enough and powered it past Ingham. The match's fifth different goal scorer rushed to the corner to celebrate with his fans, but not before stopping for a celebration reminiscent of NBA star Mikal Bridges’ iconic three-point taunt. Forge held on for the remaining ten minutes, despite a strong Atlético push, in what turned out to be a match of the year candidate and an instant all-time classic.