This off-season has felt incredibly long for most CPL teams. Not necessarily for Forge FC, though. The CPL champions' season ended on December 8 (some three months after most teams in the league) with a final defeat in the Concacaf League. By that point, some of their CPL foes were already deep into roster rebuilds or major shakeups ahead of the 2021 season. So, Forge could be forgiven for announcing their first roster news of the new year just a week ago. According to coach Bobby Smyrniotis, the club has been taking its time sifting through contract situations, ensuring that key members of the two-time championship squad will be sticking around. At time of publication, four players (Kyle Bekker, Triston Henry, Kwame Awuah, and Dominic Samuel) are guaranteed to return, with announcements sure to trickle out over the next few weeks. "There's obviously a pretty distinct difference between Forge and the rest of the teams; if you look at the calendar, all the teams have been off for the better part of four and a half months and we've been off for six weeks," Smyrniotis told CanPL.ca. "Our goal is to have a big part of the core back for 2021, and see where we need to make the steps in continuing to make this team a better team going forward." In some ways, it's hard to immediately pinpoint how a squad that's dominated its league for two years might be tangibly improved. Certainly, Forge won't want to tamper much with the tactical chemistry that's been so successful in CPL play. Still, concerns have arisen. For one thing, stalwart centre-back David Edgar's retirement left them with a lot of minutes to fill in defence. Smyrniotis explained that he's confident in the club's internal options -- he brought up the recently re-signed Dominic Samuel, whom he calls the best pure defender in the CPL, as a likely option for filling in at centre-back. Things get even more complicated, though, with Daniel Krutzen recently going on trial with clubs in Sweden. Smyrniotis said he's fairly confident the Belgian defender will be back with Forge in 2021, but he's prepared for all possibilities.
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"If something comes along that's at a higher level or a bigger prospect for his future he's got to look at that, but I think both sides also want to see Daniel Krutzen in a Forge jersey in 2021," Smyrniotis said. "We also have to remember that when Daniel Krutzen came to this league he was a college player that really nobody knew about in the U.S., and in two years he's become the best all-around defender in the CPL, for me, by far. So when you say how do you replace certain players, there's a lot of ways, a lot of avenues to do that, and I think that's one thing that we do very well. You've got to make sure you've got a good rapport on the guy coming in." Smyrniotis added that Forge is also looking to improve in the final third of the pitch, perhaps by adding an attacker with top finishing ability. The club did score more goals than anyone else in the CPL in 2021, but Smyrniotis mentioned several times that he felt they could've had even more (and certainly a few finished chances in the Concacaf League might have changed their fortunes there). Still, the coach explained that Forge's approach to adding new players will be methodical. In 2020, they managed to find useful contributions in the likes of Paolo Sabak, Mo Babouli, and Maxim Tissot -- all of whom were players Smyrniotis had been tracking for quite a while. When looking for new players, the Forge boss revealed that he's looking for as much value as possible in players that have been overlooked by higher levels, or would otherwise relish an opportunity at Forge -- just like Krutzen, he pointed out. "We're usually looking about a year ahead at different players, because you don't want to get to a point where you're just, 'Oh, I need to get this player,'" Smyrniotis said. "Throughout the year we've got a list on both domestic and international players that we're following, and we keep on following. We keep on moving players up and down that list based on what our needs will be for the following year." He added that the club wasn't actively thinking about upcoming roster moves for much of the Fall, preferring not to distract from the Concacaf League campaign. Now, though, Smyrniotis expects things to heat up quite a bit -- especially with Forge's off-season likely to end earlier than other CPL clubs with the upcoming Canadian Championship final against Toronto FC. As always, though, Forge isn't worried. "We've got a lot of time to make whatever decisions we need to make," Smyrniotis said.