Final Score: Forge FC 3-1 Pacific FC Goalscorers: Rama 5', Pacius 35', Hamilton 90+5'; Daniels 3' Game of the 2023 season: 103 CPL match: 470
Match in a minute or lessForge FC moved into second place in the Canadian Premier League table on Saturday night, with a 3-1 victory over Pacific FC -- a result that also puts them two points above the Tridents in the standings. Under the league's new playoff format, finishing in a top-two position brings with it a significant advantage. The league's first and second-place sides after the regular season face off in a playoff match in which the winner advances directly to, and hosts, the 2023 final. The loser then has a second chance to reach the final as they enter the bottom portion of the bracket. Saturday's match got off to a wild start as the teams traded goals in the opening five minutes, with Djenairo Daniels opening the scoring for Pacific, before Rezart Rama equalized with his first goal for Forge FC. The match took a scary turn shortly thereafter with a significant injury delay due to a collision between Forge's Malcolm Duncan and Pacific's Kunle Dada-Luke. After the restart, Woobens Pacius scored what stood as the winner in the 35th minute, before Jordan Hamilton put the match well and truly to bed in the 90+6 minute. Forge FC had already clinched their playoff spot earlier in the day with York United losing to Cavalry. Despite dropping to third place, Pacific had clinched their spot last weekend. The result also means that Cavalry are the 2023 CPL Regular Season Winners. The result clearly affected the visitors, who were top of the table for large portions of the season and spent significant time post-match in a closed-door meeting. They did not speak to the media after the match.
After an outstanding start, injury stoppages become the major storySaturday's match got off to an incredible start, with a pair of goals inside the opening five minutes of the match, one or either side. However, that was quickly out of the minds of everyone in the stadium after a scary collision between Kunle Dada-Luke and Malcolm Duncan that resulted in a delay of over 30 minutes as both were attended to on the pitch with both sets of players sent back to their dressing rooms. After both players were removed from the pitch by ambulances, the teams returned to the pitch for brief warmups before resuming play. After the match, Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis confirmed that Malcolm Duncan was in stable condition. Pacific's Kunle Dada-Luke is also in stable condition and was awake and talking to medical staff when he was removed from the pitch. Both players have been taken to hospital for further precautionary tests and evaluation. "We have to thank our doctors for doing a good job, both with Malcolm and with Kunle, I've also heard that he was in stable condition as well," said Smyrniotis after the match. "It is a tough moment, and it has happened to our teams two games in a row and that is always a tough one. We are hopeful for a speedy recovery but everyone is in stable condition." The two sides also went through a similar stoppage the last time they met when Pacific striker Djenairo Daniels had to be removed on a stretcher. Pacific, meanwhile, were also part of an incident in the Canadian Championship when Vancouver Whitecaps Ali Ahmed was injured. Returning from a stoppage like that to play a football match is always mentally taxing, and clearly had a significant impact on Saturday's match. The delays in particular, seemed to understandably affect the flow and intensity of what had the early makings of one of the best matches of the 2023 season. In the second half, the match saw another long delay when Forge goalkeeper Triston Henry collided with the back bar in his net after stopping an attempted chip from Pacific's Amer Didic. Henry is also expected to be okay after being removed from the match for precautionary reasons.
Forge's 3-4-1-2 formation creates critical width, opportunity for the team's key attackers.With defenders Garven Mestusala, Dom Samuel and Malik Owolabi-Belewu all unavailable for Forge on Saturday night with minor injuries, Bobby Smyrniotis elected to go with an interesting tactical shape that resembled something of a 5-2-1-2 without the ball, and a 3-4-1-2 in possession. For Smyrniotis, this formation had several advantages for his side that played out on Saturday night. First and foremost, it found a way to get the club's two leading goalscorers, Terran Campbell and Woobens Pacius, on the field at the same time. Not only that, but they both played centrally in their best positions as number nine -- when most of the season one of the pair, usually Pacius, has been deployed on the wing when they have seen the field together. Having the two strikers centrally left pockets out wide for players like Kwasi Poku and Rezart Rama, and later Aboubacar Sissoko after Duncan's injury to get forward and create crossing opportunities. Béni Badibanga was free to pop up in different places along the frontline in a more central role than he has played so far for this Forge side. Forge created 2.16 expected goals, hit the woodwork twice, and had a stunning six big chances on Saturday. "A lot of that is we think Poku can do a great job a lot of times when you give him space, and it was also a way to neutralize Dada-Luke on that side which is very important to their attacks," said Smyrniotis. "At the end of the day, I think it is 19 goals between Woobens Pacius and Terran Campbell, sometimes you need to find ways to have your goals on the pitch. You come out with the best way of doing that, and looking at Béni in a bit of a different role and I think it worked very well." Rama, who shifted from right wingback to right centre-back after Duncan's injury, spoke after the game about the continued importance of the side having so many players who are tactically and positionally flexible during situations like this. "We are used to it, we train for different structures," he said. "We do everything to be ready for the game whatever, and the players we are flexible with positions. For me there is no difference playing right wingback or right centreback, I really like both positions, I can play everywhere in the defence. So it is good that all of us can really change everything so quick and be the same."
Kwasi Poku earning a starting role as one of Forge's most dangerous attacking threatsWith the postseason just around the corner, 20-year-old Forge wingback Kwasi Poku made a strong case for locking down a starting spot during a man of the match performed on Saturday. Poku assisted on Rama's goal with an outstanding cross after winning the ball back in the attacking third. He then delivered another outstanding cross to Bedibanga, which after being stopped by Emil Gazdov brilliantly saw Pacius score on the rebound. In total, Poku had a shot, created two chances, four crosses and had five attempted dribbles during a dynamic display of his outstanding ability and potential. "I think Poku has been brilliant, he is a player that we have missed in the last two games, His quality is there on both of those [goals], service into the box and just the play running up to that." Rama went out of his way in his post-match press conference to say that Poku is among the best crossers in the entire league, and that when he saw that the ball was going to fall to the young Forge fullback he did everything he could to get into the box. With Poku going the full 90 minutes, Kalongo playing the final 30 and Khadim Kane checking in during the 79th minute, the match also saw Forge make significant progress toward their required U-21 Canadian minutes. If Poku keeps playing like this, however, the remainder of those minutes are easily spoken for.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchKwasi Poku, Forge FC His attacking play was absolutely brilliant, but Poku also put in a strong shift without the ball when he shifted into a back five defensively, winning five of nine duels and winning possession back five times, including once in the final third which led to Forge's opening goal.
What’s next?Pacific FC are back at home on Saturday, September 30 where they host rivals Vancouver FC for the final time this season (2:00 p.m. PT / 5:00 p.m. ET). Forge, meanwhile, head to the east coast for a big clash with Halifax Wanderers on Saturday, September 30 (2:00 p.m. ET). Watch all CPL matches live on OneSoccer. In addition to its website and app, OneSoccer is now available on TELUS channel 980 and on Fubo TV. Call your local cable provider to ask for OneSoccer today.