The stage is set: Forge FC and Cavalry FC will be competing in the 2019 Canadian Premier League Finals.
Forge booked their spot on Saturday evening after winning the mathematical battle against the other five combatants, so regardless of who wins the Fall, it’ll be Calgary vs. Hamilton to wrap up the inaugural CPL campaign.
For those who have kept watch all year, Finals 2019 promises more of the sort of drama, intrigue, and back-and-forth battles that have defined this budding rivalry over the course of the last eight months, too.
Let’s take a look back, shall we?
Pre-season favourites? You bet
When the seven CPL teams made their way down to the Dominican Republic for pre-season, all eyes were on Forge FC.
They were the talk among the coaches, as coach Bobby Smyrniotis had quietly assembled a roster filled with experienced, talented players, including former Toronto FC alum Kyle Bekker, Quillan Roberts, and Emery Welshman. Those three, coupled with a cast of characters that Smyrniotis knew well from the Sigma FC academy, made Forge a close-knit group of promising players that looked like a force on paper.
But, it was Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s Cavalry FC that emerged as the team to beat down in Punta Cana, starting with an opening friendly against York9 FC that saw Nik Ledgerwood and co. stamp their authority on the training grounds early. Goals from Jordan Brown, Sergio Camargo, and Dominique Malonga were the bedrock of the growing murmurs surrounding Calgary’s outfit, though at this point, players such as Dominick Zator, Elijah Adekugbe, Marco Carducci, and Nico Pasquotti had yet to catch widespread attention.
This particular writer had the pleasure of taking in a number of Cavalry and Forge friendlies over those two weeks in the Dominican Republic, though, if these two teams ever did square up together, it wasn’t of any real significance. Forge remained the favourites, on paper, with Cavalry turning heads and impressing.
A growing rivalry emerged in 2019
Fans of either Cavalry or Forge didn’t have to wait too long to see them battle in out in meaningful competition, as Forge hosted Cavalry at Tim Hortons Field on May 12, just two weeks into the season.
Going into this tilt, Cavalry was in finer form, having won their first two games, while Forge had a mixed bag of a win, draw, and a loss. That bit of good form may have proved the difference in this first meeting, as Ledgerwood and Tristan Borges traded goals on either end of what looked like a 1-1 draw, until a 95th-minute winner by Nico Pasquotti settled the score in Cavalry’s favour.
Midway through June, and with the Spring sprint well underway, these two teams would meet again. At this point, Cavalry had all but wrapped up the Spring title, having won all seven of their matches in the lead-up to this June 22 clash with Forge at Spruce Meadows. But, Forge still had a chance to keep their own Spring hopes alive with a win – and to inflict a first wound against the Cavs’ perfect start.
That’s exactly what Bekker did, five minutes into this second league encounter. Forge picked up a 1-0 win, handing Cavalry their first loss.
By this point, a new narrative had emerged across the CPL: Sure, Cavalry’s natural rival would be fellow Albertan outfit FC Edmonton, and Forge and York9 made up the closest derby in all of Canada. But, some rivalries are born out of the fires, and Forge and Cavalry seemed to have ignited something rather early in their respective club histories, to that end.
The third time these two teams met in league play was on August 25, where Forge would replicate that 1-0 scorelinecourtesy of a 79th-minute introductory goal by Jonathan Grant. His coolly-hit left-footed curler stunned the Cavs and gave Forge the edge in the Fall table.
That’s where we are at the moment, at least, in league play. These two teams met two more times, in a different frame, after all.
Voyageurs Cup adds fuel to fire
Cavalry’s run in the Canadian Championship will likely go down as one of the defining moments in the 2019 CPL season.
Could you blame ’em? Beating MLS opposition in the Vancouver Whitecaps is no small feat, doubly so for a team that had only existed for four months at that time.
But, before Cavalry could test itself against the Whitecaps or the Montreal Impact later in the tournament, they had a date set in Qualifying Round 2 with, you guessed it – Forge FC.
It was the first home-and-away meeting in tournament play between these two outfits, a match-up that will be replicated at Finals 2019.
Obviously, we know how it ended, with Cavalry advancing to take on a pair of MLS sides. But, to call it close would be underselling the drama of their fierce battle over two legs.
Emery Welshman looked to have given Forge a 1-0 lead in the first leg at Tim Hortons Field, but just like in their first encounter, a 96th-minute penalty goal by Malonga gave the Cavs a precious away goal in a 1-1 draw heading into Spruce Meadows.
That second game saw another eerily familiar development, as Bekker scored 13 minutes into the match to give Forge a 2-1 lead on aggregate. But, Malonga would equalize in the final minutes of the first half, before Sergio Camargo settled the series with a 58th-minute go-ahead goal that Cavalry held until the final whistle.
That would drop the curtain on Forge’s 2019 CanChamp campaign, and set the stage for Cavalry’s improbable run to the semifinals. You can be sure that Forge’s players watched Cavalry take on the Whitecaps and the Impact, and vowed to return with even more resolve in 2020.
Rehearsal, or mind games?
So, that’s where we’re at now between Cavalry and Forge; five meetings over two competitions, and a pair of encounters at Finals 2019 to come, right?
By some stroke of luck, Forge and Cavalry meet twice more in regular season play down this final Fall stretch – once at Spruce Meadows (Sunday, Oct. 9 at 9:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. MT, available on OneSoccer) and once at Tim Hortons Field (Oct. 16 at 7:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. MT, available on OneSoccer).
Is it a preview of what’s to come in Finals 2019? Perhaps. Both managers will be ready to feel one another out once again, having grown and improved over the course of the 2019 season.
But, would Wheeldon Jr. or Smyrniotis also do well to keep some of their cards closer to the chest?
You could hardly blame them for trotting out B-teams in an effort to keep some secrets heading into Finals 2019. But, if Wheeldon Jr. is to be believed, we should expect another all-out battle.
“We’ve talked all the time that we won the Spring; would we ease off in the Fall? The answer is no,” he said, following his team’s 3-0 win over York9 on Saturday. “We want to win the Fall because then we are the undisputed (best team) in the regular season. And then the CPL championship becomes like a treble.
“We want to win those two games because then that decides the fate (of the Fall) and then we’ll treat (Finals 2019) like a cup tie.”
Finals 2019: The ultimate test
By the time Finals 2019 comes along, Forge and Cavalry will have met seven times in 2019.
By the end of the season? It’ll be nine total encounters between these two foes.
The 2019 Canadian Premier League season was largely defined by the exploits of both of these teams, whether in the Spring or Fall tables, in the Canadian Championship, or in Forge’s foray into CONCACAF League play. Wheeldon Jr. and Smyrniotis have overseen the backbone of the 2019 narrative, which all comes to a head over two legs starting on Oct. 26, and wrapping up on Nov. 2.
When the season began, Forge FC were favourites for this spot; but, heading into Finals 2019, Cavalry FC carries a “team of destiny” air around them that may be hard to overturn.
Whatever happens, fans of the CPL ought to expect a grand affair to wrap up what has been a history-making inaugural campaign.