Tristan Borges has left town, but Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis isn't dwelling on the past. Instead, he's looking ahead, and he's already challenging his players in pre-season training camp for the 2020 Canadian Premier League season to step up and become the next Borges. "(Borges) is a great story," Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis told last week. "The one thing we talk about is players in the dressing room being able to step up and take a role. Tristan was a guy last year, who at the beginning of the year maybe a lot of people weren’t talking about being the player he would be in 2019. "You see it as a player, you say, hey, this can be me." So, who will it be in 2020? Who will step up for Forge in Borges' absence in the upcoming campaign? The team of Marty Thompson, Charlie O'Connor-Clarke and John Molinaro offer their views below. RELATED READING: CPL pre-season roster tracker: How each team is shaping up
THOMPSON: Chris Nanco

Perhaps Chris Nanco is only just getting comfortable. Think back to the now-25-year-old’s late-season with Forge FC. He was a complete beast on the left-hand side… once he was given the time. Nanco’s first 90-minute performance came in late June, as he moved from an early-season support role to a full-on starter. His blistering speed, surprisingly equal touch, and ability to snuff out plays going backward made him hard to drop for coach Bobby Smyrniotis. This all came to a head at Finals 2019. Nanco in Leg 1 was a much, much different player to what we saw early on in the season. This includes that assist, handing Borges (of all players) a chance after a wicked spin move and series of impressive attacking steps. Another direct role in Leg 2 was exactly what Forge needed, playing a surprisingly key role (he took more shots and made more line-breaking passes in the final third than any other player in Finals 2019). This is all to say that Nanco, as one of the club’s inaugural signings, has finally earned his spot in Borges’ absence as a more direct, speed-driven winger.
O'CONNOR-CLARKE: David Choinière

The man who scored the final goal of 2019 is my dark horse pick to score the first of 2020. He's probably the most like-for-like option Forge has to fill the hole in their lineup, without taking anyone else out of their usual job. Indeed, Bobby Smyrniotis agreed that he's a possibility when I floated Choinière's name to him. Just like Borges, Choinière can fill in on either wing, as well as in attacking midfield. He only made Forge's starting lineup 14 times in 2019 across CPL, Canadian Championship, and Concacaf League play (but 23 appearances total). He managed four goals and four assists, which made him perhaps the best-value depth player in the league. At 23 years old, Choinière is still a young player with room to grow, but he already has experience with the Montreal Impact. He was certainly one of the more highly-touted prospects to move from MLS to the CPL last year, but as a direct understudy to Borges he didn't break out the way we might've expected. As someone who can be both a playmaker and a goalscorer, Forge doesn't have any more ideal Borges replacement in such desperate need of more playing time. Choinière should start much more regularly this year, and with that could very well come a lot more goals.
MOLINARO: Kadell Thomas

Thomas netted a respectable five goals (including the first in franchise history) and tallied three assists in 15 CPL appearances last season. It could have been more had it not been for the fact that an injury suffered in mid-September forced him to have oral surgery. The League1 Ontario graduate showed flashes of attacking brilliance for Forge at times in 2019, the prime example coming during a July 20 home game. On a steamy afternoon at Tim Horton Field, Thomas peeled away from his defensive marker on the left flank and burst into the penalty area, danced his way around Valour's José Galán and Jordan Murrell (let's call it like it is: Thomas turned them into pylons) with the ball glued to his feet and then chipped goalkeeper Tyson Farago at the near post. It was easily one of the best goals of the CPL's first season. Bobby Smyrniotis would no doubt want to see more of that from Thomas in 2020, and Thomas would surely love to oblige his coach. The question is, though, can the native of North York, Ont., do it on a consistent basis? And will Smyrniotis give Thomas the chance to prove himself? Smyrniotis is big on versatility and his players being able to play in a variety of positions. Thomas can play anywhere among the front three, so I think if the Forge coach shows a little bit of faith early on in the campaign that he could rise to the occasion and help to fill the void left by Borges. EditorialAd-HomeKit_Launch

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