2021 CPL regular season (The Kickoff) — Match #18 Valour FC vs. Forge FC July 11, 2021 at 1:30 pm ET/12:30 pm CT IG Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca

Valour FC and Forge FC, two of the more battle-hardened sides at CanPL's The Kickoff, are set to square off for the second time in as many weeks Sunday in Winnipeg. Reinforcements are on the way for both sides, who have been the hardest hit by injuries and fitness issues early in the single-site campaign. Valour is set to welcome Rodrigo Reyes, a centre-back on loan from Mexican giants Chivas, while Bobby Smyrniotis and co. could hand Costa Rican loanee attacker Josh Navarro his first minutes as he passes COVID-19 travel quarantine restrictions. The two sides are some of the most talked-about clubs in the early goings of the 2021 season due to their unexpected starts – sparked by Valour's 2-0 win over the two-time defending champions in June with goals from Austin Ricci and Moses Dyer. Winnipeg went on to win another two games and, despite a loss to York United at midweek, remain top of the CPL standings through the first four matchweeks as Rob Gale's side shows resilience, tactical flexibility, and team spirit in abundance. "The pair of us have been the teams unable to field a full bench at the minute," Gale said to reporters ahead of the match, adding he would need to use Friday's training session to address injuries to players like Brett Levis and Jose Galan. "The thing people behind the scenes don't see are the decisions we have to make to see who can play the game. We're not in a position to go toe-to-toe with 22 players available." Forge, meanwhile, tumbled further after that opening loss to Valour but have rebounded with back-to-back wins over pre-season favourites Pacific FC and Cavalry FC – the latter of which coming Thursday via a brace from Kyle Bekker. Smyrniotis counts seven absences ahead of Sunday's matinee, including stalwart attacker Tristan Borges and defender Daniel Krutzen. "They both have lower body injuries that could go either way – we're getting a bit tight for this weekend," Smyrniotis said. "It'll go down to a game time decision with the guys. We do gain Joshua Navarro, though, he'll have his first training session this weekend." Both coaches acknowledge the 2021 CPL season is a marathon, not a sprint – through the nature of The Kickoff may lead to believe it's an all-out race. Bekker, 30, sees that better than anyone, considering their breakneck 2020 campaign that led to a North Star Shield and Concacaf League. "Every game we played last year was a final," Bekker said. "We need to be a bit more patient, realize the big picture while keeping the urgency to go out there and get a result. We'll be back in our home markets with things like Concacaf League and the Canadian Championship in our schedule soon enough."

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!


  • Game 5 Theory: As CanPL's final "bubble" event passes its halfway mark, Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis has marked each club's fifth match as a particularly difficult one to navigate. Indeed Forge fell to York 3-2 in their fifth game at the Island Games, something Smyrniotis is quick to attribute to mental and physical fatigue more than an arbitrary number. "This will always be a tricky one [off the bubble], match no. five – when we look back at PEI game five was tricky for every team as fatigue starts to kick in, we're looking at a lot of players who have logged a lot of minutes for all teams," Smyrniotis reasoned. While Valour is dealing with similar stains of fatigue, it's worth noting they won their fifth game in PEI thanks to Masta Kacher's late winner over FC Edmonton.​
  • Gale's low block: Valour snatched that opening 2-0 win from Forge by maintaining a solid low block, keeping a rusty Forge attack to just two shots on target. Gale's side, led by standout defensive performances from Raph Ohin, Stefan Cebara, and Andrew Jean-Baptiste, held just 34% of the ball and had the second-lowest possession start height in CPL history, according to Centre Circle Data. While it's unclear if Gale will play this way come Sunday, it's worth noting Forge's attack has had a few more reps since they last met. "We did some good things against Forge [when we beat them] that we'll look to do again Sunday," Gale said. "We have addressed some fundamentals in our game models that need to be improved from the York match. Take that ball and use it – possession with an end product."​
  • Fans in the stands: Sunday's matinee, which precedes the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy, will see fans once again return to the stands at IG Field. Valour's Wednesday tilt with York saw the first fans for a professional match in Canada in almost 500 days. Gale's group galvanized a newfound energey from the crowd right away, with Andrew Jean-Baptiste's header putting the crowd on its feet. While Forge will play against a hostile crowd for the first time since 2019, they won't be far away from performing for their own fans. The Ontario government announced Friday the entering of Stage 3 in their COVID-19 reopening plan, leaving a capacity of 15,000 supporters at Tim Hortons Field when they return home later this month.​


Forge FC wins: 5 || Valour FC wins: 1 || Draws: 3

Previous match:

June 27, 2021 -- Forge FC 2-0 Valour FC


"It was there after the first win as well – there wasn't any hooting or hollering. There was just a quiet calm about them and it's on to the next game. It's the same after a defeat, you have to have that about yourself. There's definitely not that fragility that we talked about (previously)." — Rob Gale, Valour FC head coach

"It just needs to be a strong tactical performance from our end. Valour has been resilient in how they'll defend in their low blocks, playing on the counter, taking the opportunities when they come." — Bobby Smyrniotis, Forge FC head coach

Continue reading...