Chris Armas doesn’t know when or where Toronto FC will meet Forge FC in the Canadian Championship final. But it’s clear that Armas, who was officially unveiled as TFC’s new coach in January, is taking the challenge of the two-time defending CPL champions very seriously. Armas’ side has been in pre-season training camp since Feb. 17, getting ready for the start of the 2021 MLS campaign in mid-April. Part of the team’s camp has also been devoted to preparing for the Canadian Championship final, which has included watching game film and putting together a scouting report on Forge. Thus far, Armas has been impressed with what he’s seen from the Hamilton-based club, and he tipped his hat to Bobby Smyrniotis for the work he’s done with Forge ahead of the Canadian Championship final. "They’ve been a well-coached team and we’ll have all the respect in the world for them stepping into that," Armas told reporters on a Zoom call this week. Aside from being well-coached, Armas noted that Forge is a "a credible team with some ex-MLS guys" on their roster.
RELATED READING: Forge sizing up TFC ahead of CanChamp final: ‘We’ve been the underdog many times’
Indeed, Forge captain Kyle Bekker was a first-round draft pick (third overall) by TFC in 2013, and he ended up playing 29 games for the Reds over two seasons. He also turned out for the Montreal Impact and FC Dallas. Forge striker Mo Babouli came up through the TFC academy before signing with the senior team and making 16 appearances during the 2016 season. Other Forge players with MLS experience include midfielders Kwame Awuah (New York City FC) and Maxim Tissot (Montreal Impact and D.C. United). "We have watched a bit (of game film) trying to prepare and to understand their coach, their style of play, some of the player qualities, how they defend, how they attack... We’re just trying to get comfortable understanding their team right now," Armas explained. One thing that Armas has noticed has been Forge’s strength on the counter-attack, something he expects will be a part of their game-plan when the two sides eventually clash. "We’ve been cutting film and looking at some different things, seeing specifically that they’re good in transition, they can play off the striker and run guys off the striker, they have some guys 1v1 that are dangerous," Armas said. The 2020 Canadian Championship has been in a holding pattern since last summer when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the delay of the tournament. Scheduling issues and health and safety protocols have led to the final being pushed even further, but now time is of the essence. The winner of the Canadian Championship final qualifies for this year’s Concacaf Champions League. Either Forge or TFC will meet Club León in the round of 16 of the continental competition, with the opening contest of the two-legged series scheduled for April 7 in Mexico. The decisive second leg is slated for April 14. "We’re not talking about Club León right now. That’s only in the dreams that we move on," Armas stated. Armas couldn’t provide any update when asked about the scheduling of the Canadian Championship final between TFC and Forge, only that he’s "preparing for a match in the next two-and-a-half, three weeks." "March 20 has been thrown out there. We’re waiting for clarity on that," Armas said.