2021 at a glanceForge FC head into their third season looking to defend their title yet again. The two-time CPL champions have retained almost all of their core from the Island Games, and they've added some very talented pieces -- including a familiar face in Tristan Borges, returning on loan after winning the CPL's 2019 Player of the Year award. The defending champions will be hoping to continue their dominance, picking up as many points as possible from the Winnipeg bubble before, hopefully, returning to Hamilton. Led by reigning MVP Kyle Bekker, this squad is full of talent and experience. This will be a busy summer for Forge, who will also embark on their third campaign in the Concacaf League in August after progressing to the quarter-finals last year. This time around, they're hoping to go one step farther in the continental competition. Forge, led by coach Bobby Smyrniotis, has set a standard over two years in the CPL; it's their job now to maintain that level, with other clubs arming up to try and catch them. Do they have what it takes to pull off the unprecedented three-peat?
- 2020 CPL record (W-D-L): 6-4-1 (3rd in first round); 2-1-0 in group stage (1st)
- Goals scored: 19
- Goals against: 10
- Goal difference: +9
- Top scorer: Kyle Bekker and Alex Achinioti-Jonsson (3)
What happened in 2020?Forge had to grow into the 2020 campaign. They opened the Island Games with a 2-2 draw against Cavalry FC, but followed it up by comfortably sailing past FC Edmonton, 2-0. They would add first-round wins against Atlético Ottawa and Pacific FC, and they would draw with HFX Wanderers FC and Valour FC, all of which helped Forge become the first team to clinch their spot in the top four. Their one stumble in the first round was a surprise 3-2 loss to York, who got past their 905 Derby rivals with a trio of set-piece goals. In the group stage, a draw with HFX Wanderers and a win over Pacific put them well in contention for a spot in the final, but they needed a result on the last day against Cavalry to punch their ticket. They managed to break through the Cavs' feverish press just enough to win 2-0 and ensure their return to the championship game. Forge went on to take control of the CPL Final, with goals from Alex Achinioti-Jonsson and Maxim Tissot, as well as a resolute defensive effort, good enough to see off the Wanderers and ensure a second consecutive championship for Forge. Of course, they were the only side whose season didn't end in PEI -- Forge embarked on a remarkable run in the Concacaf League in the Fall, winning single-game knockout ties on the road against Municipal Limeño in El Salvador and Tauro FC in Panama. They would ultimately lose on penalties in the quarter-final to Haitian side Arcahaie FC and fall in a Concacaf Champions League play-in contest against Marathón of Honduras, but the CPL champions represented Canada extremely well in some difficult situations abroad.
How have they changed?PLAYERS IN: Dejan Jakovic, Garven Metusala, Tristan Borges, Joshua Navarro, Omar Browne, Kosi Nwafornso, Johnny Son, Santiago Frias, Robbie Cleary PLAYERS OUT: David Edgar, Klaidi Cela, Jordan Dunstan, Marcel Zajac, Gabriel Balbinotti, Kadell Thomas, Anthony Novak You may recognize the guy in the photo. Tristan Borges, who scored 13 goals in 2019 to win the Golden Boot and the CPL Player of the Year award, has returned to Forge on loan from Belgian club OH Leuven. Adding him to the mix on a side that won a championship without him means this team could be quite scary in 2021. They've also brought in Canadian national team veteran Dejan Jakovic in an almost like-for-like replacement of David Edgar, who retired at the end of 2020 after two excellent years anchoring the Forge defence. Expect him to slide directly into the same kind of role at centre-back. Forge have also added a handful of other pieces, including a dynamic pair of internationals in Joshua Navarro and Omar Browne. The two attackers could be extremely useful to this side, whether starting or coming off the bench, with both of them offering strong experience at good levels of the game. Ultimately, the story with this club is that they've retained most of their championship-winning core. Perhaps the biggest loss, aside from Edgar's retirement, is striker Anthony Novak, who made the switch to Cavalry FC after scoring eight goals for Forge over the past two years.
Projected Starting XI Triston Henry; Kwame Awuah, Daniel Krutzen, Dejan Jakovic, Jonathan Grant; Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson, Paolo Sabak, Kyle Bekker; Chris Nanco, Mo Babouli, Tristan Borges Reigning Goalkeeper of the Year Triston Henry gets the obvious nod in goal; he's been rock-solid for Forge in two CPL seasons. In front of him is a defensive line that caused trouble for every CPL attack (with Edgar rather than Jakovic, though). Kwame Awuah might be the best left-back in the CPL on both sides of the ball, and Daniel Krutzen is perhaps the league's most talented ball-playing centre-back. On the right side, Jonathan Grant is a very dynamic option at fullback, although he also appeared several times in an advanced wing position last season. Dom Samuel, whom Bobby Smyrniotis has described as the best one-on-one defender in the league, could also start for this side, either in the middle or at fullback, both of which he did in 2020. The midfield trio was formidable in 2020, with Achinioti-Jonsson sitting at the base of a triangle as one of the top transitional passers in the CPL. Paolo Sabak and Kyle Bekker are both top-notch creative players who will look to move the ball out to the wings, or play it into channels for a striker. It'll be extremely difficult to steal the ball from these three, and even tougher to stop them from advancing up the pitch. Up front, Forge has a wealth of options. Last year, they impressed by playing a different front three in every single match at the Island Games, which speaks to how deep they were (and still are) in attack. Chris Nanco has always been dependable at left wing, and his chemistry with Awuah along the flank gives him an edge here. Tristan Borges, of course, will return to that right wing spot that worked so well for him in 2019 where he can cut inside and create opportunities for himself and for others. In the middle, Mo Babouli is the most likely option. He's one of the best technical players on the team, and he can finish from just about anywhere in the box. Expect him to be the main target option and the focus of the Forge attack.
Coach’s profile: Bobby SmyrniotisSmyrniotis has flourished in his two years at the helm of Forge. Having built his squad with a strong domestic core -- much of it coming from Sigma FC, the League1 Ontario side he led prior to the CPL's arrival -- Smyrniotis has drilled this team into the most well-rounded and tactically proficient side in the CPL. Forge has a strong identity, with its excellent transition game and lethal attacking buildup. Smyrniotis, who has spent almost his entire career fostering soccer in Ontario and developing youth players, has proven to be an excellent coach at the professional level. He's been nominated for the CPL's Coach of the Year award twice in a row after leading Forge to two championships, but he has yet to win it -- perhaps 2021 is the year?
What they’re saying“We’re not reinventing the wheel on how we play or what we do. The culture’s in the dressing room, everybody understands what it means to be part of Forge. New guys come in here and they adapt quickly; the tough thing that, mentally, players are always wary of is you’re playing for Forge, which means you’re expected to be a champion.” -- Bobby Smyrniotis, Forge FC head coach