Final Score: Forge FC 2-1 Pacific FC Goalscorers: Babouli 6', Browne 80'; Diaz 38' Game of the 2021 season: 76 CPL match: 211
Match in a minute or lessForge FC picked up three key points at home on Saturday before they head off to Panama, seeing off league leaders Pacific FC, 2-1. Mo Babouli scored just six minutes into the contest with an exceptional finish after Tristan Borges played him in with a top-notch long pass, but Pacific tied it up not long before halftime as Alejandro Diaz headed home a good cross from Kunle Dada-Luke. After a few substitutions and tactical shifts in the second half, though, Forge eventually found their winning goal as Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson made a surging run into the box and found Panamanian striker Omar Browne, who scored in his debut for the Hammers.
Welshman start leads to new tactical looks for ForgeIt's a little difficult to describe just how exactly Forge were lined up on Saturday. With Emery Welshman getting the start as a number nine, Forge pushed Mo Babouli out to the left side just in front of wingback Kwame Awuah, with Tristan Borges and Elimane Cisse forming a similar tandem on the right side. With a solid bank of three centre-backs, that left Kyle Bekker and Paolo Sabak free to roam essentially the entire midfield. With greater numbers out wide, Forge were very keen to play along the flanks as much as possible, the left side in particular seeing a lot of action as they looked to attack fullback Kunle Dada-Luke. For sections of the second half, Babouli and Borges actually swapped sides as Bobby Smyrniotis sought to test out some new combinations -- even, in stretches, with Welshman moving to the wing and Babouli pushing up top. Keeping the front three fluid like that helped Forge avoid becoming predictable or stale, with all three attackers offering very different skillsets. An even greater shakeup came in the 65th minute, as Smyrniotis brought a new attacking trio into the game with Josh Navarro, Woobens Pacius, and Omar Browne in place of Babouli, Welshman, and Paolo Sabak as they seemed to shift into more of a 4-2-3-1 formation with Borges playing centrally and Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson moving from the backline into midfield. That eventually worked out very well, with Achinioti-Jonsson being the one to drive the ball into the box before finding Browne for the winning goal. Forge are usually a tactically complex side, but Saturday's contest was perhaps one of their most interesting, with the way that players were able to adjust to new roles mid-game. We have a lot of players that can play a lot of different positions, we've thrown a lot of curveballs to these teams and trying to change it up, they expect one thing and we come out and do another," Babouli explained postmatch. "We have a lot of players that have the quality, the mindset, the knowledge to play at different positions and be able to perform at a high level in those positions; as long as you're on the pitch and do what you have to do it doesn't really matter where you play, where you start. There's a lot of change in the game as well. There's a lot of guys that are smart enough to understand that if you occupy a certain position, then somebody else is going to take another one." With so many versatile players in the squad, Forge are a very difficult team to scout because they can fluidly shift from one gameplan to another within minutes.
One-touch passing helps Forge move forward quicklyOne of the hallmarks of this Forge team is that pretty much every player in the squad has excellent passing range and ability on the ball. That's how they're able to play the expansive, entertaining brand of football that's them at their best. On Saturday, the Hammers moved the ball very quickly, playing a little more direct than they do against some other opponents, with most players taking no more than a touch or two before moving it ahead with a pass to a player already in motion. Forge spent very little time standing still while their team was in possession, which allowed them to play dangerous through balls between the lines to attackers making runs. Because of the general ambition of Forge's direct, forward passing, their total accuracy was a little lower than usual, dipping below 80% for the whole side; they were, in fact, uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball at times, but on the whole Forge moved the ball very quickly, especially in the first half. Though they only scored twice, Forge were more efficient with their possession than they've been in some recent games where they probed and built more slowly. They managed to get Babouli, Welshman, and especially Borges on the ball consistently, which was partly helped by positioning along the flanks close to wingbacks, but was also the product of fast, unhesitant passing from the centre-backs and central midfielders to spark the attack immediately after Forge won the ball back. It's difficult to play with that kind of tempo consistently -- especially over the course of a long season with fixture congestion -- but Bobby Smyrniotis will be delighted to see them play with that urgency when necessary.
Pacific still unable to get over the hump vs. ForgeBobby Smyrniotis pointed out postmatch that every game between Forge and Pacific seems to be an entertaining clash (certainly more so for his side, though, who have now won eight and drawn one of their nine meetings with the Tridents). Saturday was no exception, but it's starting to become significant that Forge consistently seem to be able to handle Pacific in a way most other CPL sides can't -- especially if this matchup is to be a preview of a potential playoff game. That's not to say Pacific were dominated on Saturday -- quite the opposite, with them having a slight advantage in possession and duels won, and eight shots to Forge's nine. Still, for whatever reason, Forge seemed to be able to cut through the Pacific backline on quite a few occasions especially in the first half (look no further than Borges' ball to Babouli for the opening goal, or even his through ball a couple minutes earlier). Pacific coach Pa-Modou Kah was laconic in his comments postgame, saying no more than "We just go back to the drawing board" when asked how he'd assess his side's performance. Still, Kah conceded that Forge do seem to have the better of his side at the moment. "I think today we definitely could've got something out of the game if we took care of the ball a little more, I think we rushed," Kah said. "For where we are, for where we want to go, I think we've just got to keep going; it's just one result, it's not going to change who we are. So, alright, they have our number but it's always like this sometimes in football you have a team that has your number so it's up to us to figure out how to get theirs." Alejandro Diaz, who scored Pacific's goal on the night, agreed with his coach, adding that he felt his side struggled in the early stages to play through Forge's press: "I think we were lacking a little bit at the beginning with our passes, they were pressing high and we were in trouble a bit in our building," he said. "We gave them opportunities at the beginning so it was tough for us, then we switched a little bit in the second half of the first half and it was better." Certainly, Pacific were at their most dangerous toward the end of the first half, but they couldn't quite find the same rhythm in the second frame enough to score again.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchAlexander Achinioti-Jonsson, Forge FC The talented Swede is one of Forge's most dependable players, doing excellent work whether at centre-back or in midfield. He spent time in both positions on Saturday, doing plenty of defensive work (four tackles, two clearances, three interceptions) in a back three before pushing further up and creating the winning goal with a dazzling run.
What's next?Forge will now fly to Panama, where they'll play the second leg of their Concacaf League round of 16 tie against Independiente on Tuesday night (6 pm ET), after which they'll head to the Canadian capital to play Atlético Ottawa in league play on Sunday, October 3 (3:30 pm ET). Pacific, meanwhile, will move on now to Winnipeg, where they take on Valour FC this Wednesday night (7:45 pm ET/6:45 pm CT). Watch all matches live on OneSoccer.