2021 CPL Playoffs — Semi-Final #2 Forge FC vs. York United November 21, 2021 at 3:00 pm ET Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca & TELUS Ch. 980 // Tickets available here

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It's the 905 Derby, but the stakes are higher than they've ever been. York United will make the trip down the QEW to Hamilton, where they'll take on Forge FC in the second of two Canadian Premier League semi-final matches this weekend, as both sides look to stamp their ticket to the Final. The visitors York are the only one of the four CPL playoff teams guaranteed to see out their postseason journey away from home. They finished fourth in the table, one point ahead of Valour FC, and they clinched their spot in the playoffs before their final game of the season, thanks to Valour and HFX Wanderers falling short in their final games of the season. So, it's York who have made the playoffs after missing the top four at the Island Games in 2020; they finished the regular season with eight wins, 12 draws, and eight losses for 36 points, having seen massive contributions this season from some very talented young players like Max Ferrari, Isaiah Johnston, and Lowell Wright. The Nine Stripes, coached by Jimmy Brennan, have experience and starpower in the mix too, with fullback Diyaeddine Abzi and former Canadian men's national team attacker Michael Petrasso. They've got a diversity of scoring options, with Abzi, Wright, and Spanish winger Álvaro Rivero all tied for the team lead in goals with six. "You can just see it every game. They're growing, they're maturing," Brennan said on Friday. "They've been buying into the way we want to play as a team. They've been a pleasure to work with and they deserve to be where they are right now; they've worked an awful lot, they've had a lot of setbacks through the season, preseason, but they didn't let it get to them, they focused on the job. "We said our goal was to get into the playoffs, and that it behind closed doors... It was good to see that they proved a lot of people wrong. Towards the end of the season they really grouped together as a club and you could see how cohesive they were. Every time they were celebrating they were all together; in games we're digging in, finding ways to win, and we made it difficult for the opposition when they're playing against us. I couldn't be any more proud of this group of guys." Then, there's Forge. The defending CPL champions (twice in a row) will not be keen on surrendering their throne, especially not to a provincial rival. They enter the playoffs as the cream of the crop, having clinched the top seed with a win over York on November 9. So, Bobby Smyrniotis and his players will know that they won't have to travel away from home in this CPL playoff run; if they beat York on Sunday, they'll host the Final at Tim Hortons Field as well. To earn that guarantee, Forge had to finish atop the eight-team CPL table, which they did with 50 points from 28 games. Second-place Cavalry FC actually finished on the same number of points, but Forge -- with a record of 16 wins, two draws, and 10 losses -- had the tiebreaking edge. They actually finished their regular season with a pair of defeats -- 1-0 at FC Edmonton on November 13, and 1-0 at home against Cavalry on November 16 -- but both of those came after they'd clinched first place. The Hammers have also found scoring from all over the pitch this year; Mo Babouli is their leading goalscorer with seven, but 20-year-old Quebec native Woobens Pacius is right behind with six. Plus, they've got the 2019 and 2020 CPL Player of the Year award winners in Tristan Borges and Kyle Bekker, respectively. Smyrniotis has plenty of talent and a lot of depth to call on in this semi-final. Matchups between these two teams have taken on a new intensity in 2021 -- perhaps partly because they've seen each other so often. York and Forge have met six times so far this season, with Forge winning for and York winning two -- although two of Forge's victories game in the final two meetings, the last one being against a heavily-rotated York side that had already clinched its postseason fate. Both of the Nine Stripes' wins against Forge came on the road at Tim Hortons Field, where they'll have to do it again on Sunday. In fact, they're the only team to beat Forge in Hamilton twice this year -- and until Tuesday's game against Cavalry, they were the only team to do it at all. MLS side CF Montreal needed a penalty shootout to win at Tim Hortons Field in the Canadian Championship, and neither of the Central American opponents (Independiente of Panama or Santos de Guápiles of Costa Rica) who came to town in the Concacaf League could win there either. So, Forge have been very strong at home this year -- but don't look past York's track record in Hamilton. Ever since York and Forge met in the CPL's first-ever game, back on April 27, 2019 (a 1-1 draw at Tim Hortons Field), they've been compared to each other. This year, with so many games between them, the animosity has grown. "There's a couple dramatic moments in the games that we've played against them, a couple of things said to one another," Forge defender Kwame Awuah said. "I think next to this game, the most important game we played against each other was the inaugural match because it was starting something new, something big in Canada... Obviously this one's a knockout game, so yeah it's important in terms of silverware, but both of these games, this one and the inaugural game, those are probably the most important games we've played against them." Either way, the winner of this semi-final will vie for the North Star Shield against either Cavalry FC or Pacific FC. If 90 minutes can't separate York and Forge, we'll go to a full 30-minute extra time, followed by a penalty shootout if necessary. Will Forge continue their domestic dominance, and move one step closer to their threepeat? Or will it be another Ontario side who finally unseat the champions?

Make your match picks prior to kickoff at canpl.ca/predictor for a chance to win prizes, including the grand prize of a trip to the 2021 CPL Final! To learn more about ComeOn!, click here. All CPL matches are available to stream on OneSoccer, or on TELUS Optik TV Channel 980.


  • York seek efficiency in final third: In the 2021 CPL regular season, no team had a higher expected goals total than York United, who finished with 40.9 (about one full goal more than Forge at 39.11). However, the Nine Stripes only scored 35 real goals -- meaning they underperformed their expected more than any of the other four playoff games. York led the CPL in shots by a significant margin at 271 total -- 27 more than sixth-place Forge. However, Forge scored four more goals than York over the season. In this semi-final, it's likely that York will have their share of opportunities to score, but it's vital that they make good use of them. Regardless of who Brennan chooses to start up front -- Lowell Wright and Julian Ulbricht will be in contention for the number nine role, with Max Ferrari, Michael Petrasso, Alvaro Rivero, and Sebastian Gutíerrez all options alongside -- York need to ensure they're efficient with the ball, and clinical when it comes to finishing their chances.​
  • Forge not splitting attention despite Concacaf SF approaching: The Concacaf League, in many ways the priority of Forge's season, resumes on Wednesday evening when Forge host Honduran side Motagua in Leg 1 of the semi-final. However, they only qualified for that competition by winning last year's CPL championship. They cannot afford to look past this semi-final with York if they want to defend a trophy that only Forge has ever won -- and qualify for next year's Concacaf League. Forge know that York have caused serious problems for them in 2021 -- perhaps more than almost any of their other opponents -- so the focus is key. "You can only take it one at a time, because this is the most important one until you get to the next one," coach Bobby Smyrniotis told reporters Friday. "The next one is irrelevant without this one. That's the way I always look at it; we know it's a big matchup, we have a team who's coming in here who's hungry in York United, who's had a good season. They're a resilient team on the pitch. So our full focus between us, the whole staff, everyone is there. Nobody's talking about Concacaf League, we've got other people dealing with that to provide me the file on Sunday."​
  • Set-pieces take on huge importance: Last time Forge played York, all three of their goals in a 3-1 win came from set-piece situations -- the first being a wondergoal from Tristan Borges, followed by a second-phase finish by Daniel Krutzen and, finally, a lofted header on a wide free-kick scored by Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson. York have typically been a very strong team on set plays, with a number of their most important goals late in games this year coming from corners and free-kicks. In a single-knockout playoff game, fine details like losing a man in the box on a set-piece can end up making the difference between winning or losing. Both coaches will be confident in their side's ability to make good use of those chances (but they'll also be imploring their players not to give up too many of them). "Everything makes the biggest difference," Smyrniotis said. "How you attack set-pieces, how you defend them, because the game is about inches. That's the one thing we've learned in playing in these games, it comes down to the smallest little detail. So it's something that's very important for us, something that we work on traditionally throughout the whole year... In these games where it's 90 minutes and one team moves on, and history means nothing, these are important things we have to look at."​


Forge FC wins: 7 || York United wins: 4 || Draws: 1

Previous match:

November 9, 2021 — York United 1-3 Forge FC


"We respect every opponent, because every opponent brings some kind of threat to the field, but we always have to look at ourselves. When we look at ourselves the best, we keep ourselves to a high standard in all areas on and off the pitch, and I think that brings success to us." -- Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis

"When you travel, there's less pressure on you than there is when you're away from home. For some reason, we've flourished away from home, and we played with an awful lot of energy and we made it difficult for teams... We've got a game plan and we're going to stick to it, and if it goes according to plan then we'll get the result that we want." -- York United head coach Jimmy Brennan

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