Once again, consistency has been the story of the offseason for Forge FC. Of the 17 players currently under contract with Forge FC, 15 of them were with the club in 2020, and 11 have been with the club since 2019 — 12 if you include Tristan Borges, who wasn't with the club in 2020 but is back on loan from OH Leuven after a dominant 2019 campaign. The familiarity these players have with each other, some of them going back even further to pre-CPL seasons with Sigma FC, has made a huge difference as the club has won back-to-back North Star Shields. Looking to make it three in a row, here's how head coach Bobby Smyrniotis' team is coming along so far.
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GoalkeepersYou can't do much better in goal than the reigning CPL Golden Glove award winner, and Forge FC have him. Triston Henry was impressive yet again in 2020, picking up five clean sheets while starting 10 of Forge's 11 games on his way to a second title. Henry is the league's all-time record holder for clean sheets, with 14 across the two seasons - including in three out of three CPL Final matches (two legs in 2019, one in 2020), and has another two for Forge in other competitions. He's made 41 appearances in total for the club, and he will undoubtedly be Bobby Smyrniotis' starter again in 2021. The backup for Henry will be youngster Baj Maan. Maan, 20, was with Forge at the Island Games, playing once in a 2-2 draw against Valour to close out the first round. That is the only professional game he's played, although he trained with Forge in 2019, so they're familiar with him after also coming up through the Sigma academy. He'll be a backup in 2021, but he's one to watch for the future.
DefendersThe most noteworthy change in this Forge FC squad so far is remarkably replacing one Canadian national team veteran with another. After David Edgar retired following the 2020 season, Forge needed to fill a huge hole in their lineup, and they did so with the signing of Dejan Jakovic, a move that CanPL.ca's Marty Thompson called the "best possible" replacement.
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Jakovic has a ton of experience at the MLS level, as well as other clubs around Europe and Asia, plus 41 caps for Canada. He'll be a leader in the Forge backline in 2021, as well as a strong defensive presence. He'll be joining a backline that is very familiar with each other, with several players playing upwards of 40 games for the club already. Along side him at centre-back will likely be Daniel Krutzen. One of the best defenders in the CPL thus far, Krutzen has signed on for at least two more seasons in Hamilton, with a contract to the end of 2022. The Belgian defender has made 49 appearances in all competitions, scoring five goals and adding two assists, including a pair of penalties last year in the Concacaf League. Also available at centre-back is Dominic Samuel. Naturally a centre-back, but capable of playing at either fullback position as well, Samuel has been crucial to Forge's success, and Bobby Smyrniotis has said that he “[doesn't] think there’s a better defender in the league.” He will be important once again in 2021, likely rotating in for one of Jakovic and Krutzen when needed. At the fullback positions, Smyrniotis is spoiled for choice, with Kwame Awuah, Maxim Tissot and Jonathan Grant to choose from. Awuah has been the first-choice left back over the past two years, and it will likely stay that way in 2021. The 25-year-old has played 45 times for Forge, picking up seven assists along the way. Awuah can also play in midfield, and if he's asked to, Maxim Tissot would be a more-than-capable replacement at the back. Tissot, 28, signed with Forge before the 2020 season, playing in all 11 matches at the Island Games, scoring the second goal in the final against HFX, and making a trio of appearances in the Concacaf League. Grant, yet another player from the club's inaugural season, has signed a multi-year contract with the club. Injuries have limited his playing time over the past two years, but the 27-year-old has still been a big contributor for this club. He's played 23 times for Forge over the two seasons, as a right back and higher up the pitch on the wings. Monti Mohsen is the other defender signed ahead of the 2021 season, as another flexible option. He's played at left back and left wing last season, and has made 13 appearances since signing in 2019. The familiarity, depth, and versatility of this group of defenders will continue to be important for Forge, as they have been over the past two seasons.
MidfieldersLike everywhere else on this Forge roster, the midfielders signed for 2021 are very familiar with one another, with four out of five having been with the club since the inaugural season. Kyle Bekker, Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson, David Choinière and Elimane Cissé have all been regulars for the club since 2019, while Paolo Sabak joined ahead of the 2020 season. Bekker, the 2020 Player of the Year and club captain, has only missed two games in Forge FC history, suiting up 49 times. In that span he's found the back of the net eight times to go along with six assists, as well as lifting the North Star Shield twice. He'll be as important as ever for Forge, providing an attacking threat from midfield. Achinioti-Jönsson has been consistently very good for Forge and can sit behind Bekker and hold things down defensively. The Swedish midfielder has played 44 times for Forge, often at the base of midfield, complimenting those around him nicely. He isn't the flashiest player on the park, but he's consistent, and has shown up when it matters most. It was his goal that won Forge the 2020 title, as he forced home a cross from Mo Babouli to give Forge a 1-0 lead. If he starts, that leaves one spot for Cissé or Sabak, as things stand. Cissé, the Swiss Army Knife of the team, has played several positions during his time in Hamilton -- in midfield, at right-back or right wing, and as a striker. He can also play as a centre-back, but is listed as a midfielder. However Forge choose to use him, he should get a lot of playing time in 2021. Sabak was brought in for the 2020 season, and he impressed in both league and Concacaf action, playing every game. He played in all 11 CPL games, started eight of them and scored a pair of penalties. He also played in all four of the club's Concacaf League games, starting two of them. David Choinière can play in midfield, but is better when he's higher up the pitch, and was penciled in at left wing in CanPL.ca's best XI in April. The 24-year-old scored one of the more memorable goals in CPL history back in 2019, putting the 2019 final out of reach. In 38 matches in all competitions, the CF Montreal academy product has scored six times, two of which came in 2020 -- once in the CPL and once in Concacaf League
ForwardsForge are quite thin up top at the moment, with only three forwards signed. Tristan Borges may be the most exciting of those names, as the former CPL Player of the Year winner is back in Hamilton on loan from Belgian side OH Leuven. The 22-year-old also won the Golden Boot and U-21 Player of the Year awards following the 2019 season, and is still tied atop the leaderboard for most goals in league history. Expected to play on one of the wings, if he can find that same form in 2021, watch out.
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With the loss of Anthony Novak to Cavalry, Mo Babouli is the lone out-and-out striker signed for 2021. Babouli was impressive in his first season with Forge, scoring twice and adding two assists across 14 matches, including an assist on the first goal in the final against HFX. The former Toronto FC attacker showed flashes of brilliance at the Island Games, and will look to tear up the league in 2021 with a bit more experience under his belt. The other forward signed is Chris Nanco. Nanco, who was one of the first signings the club made ahead of the inaugural season, has played 37 times across two seasons for the club, picking up seven goals and two assists. He's played on both wings during his time in the CPL, but his partnership with Awuah on the left flank has been deadly at times, and that is probably his best side. They have the aforementioned attacking threats from the midfield, but as far as finishers go, they need to bring a few players in still.
What's next?We have a pretty good idea of what Forge's starting lineup is going to look like, more or less the same as it has the last two seasons, but they need to sign some depth still. With the Jakovic signing, Forge now have 17 players under contract, leaving six more spaces to fill. Midfield and attacking depth should be the priority, with depth at striker and on the wings the biggest need. They only have three forwards under contract, (plus Choinière) so will need to prioritize that over the coming weeks.