The combatants are set for the 2019 Canadian Premier League Finals, with Hamilton’s Forge FC taking on Calgary-based Cavalry FC in a home-and-away series to declare the winner of the inaugural CPL campaign.
So, while it may be a touch premature – these two still face off twice more in regular season play, after all – Armen Bedakian and Charlie O’Connor-Clarke have decided to put their proverbial gloves up in a spirited debate to answer the question: Who is the favourite for Finals 2019?
Let’s break it down into three topics:
Who’s better on paper, and who’s in better form?
ARMEN: The overwhelming favourite for the title coming out of pre-season was Forge FC, and that was simply because coach Bobby Smyrniotis assembled a group of experienced, talented players with a core of guys with lots of MLS experience in Kyle Bekker, Quillan Roberts, Kwame Awuah, and Emery Welshman, among others. On paper, no other team had quite as vastly experienced a roster as Forge, even if much of Cavalry’s team had played together in the past.
As for form? It’s a total toss up. I’d argue that Cavalry had a better Spring than Forge, but Forge did hand Cavalry their first loss in Spring. And, if you look at their historical matchups, yes, Cavalry has the edge – but, if not for late saves by Nico Pasquotti and Dominique Malonga, that may not quite be the case. So, I’d counter with this: How likely is it that Cavalry can pull off late drama again? That Forge has held Cavalry to the sword so many times is, in and of itself, a mark of their strength. And, don’t forget, Forge has two points on Cavalry in the longer Fall table. It’s not over, but …
CHARLIE: Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has assembled a more well-rounded side, with players in every position that could be considered among the league’s elite. Dominick Zator and Mason Trafford alone make the Cavs’ back four much more formidable than Forge’s, and they have a distinct advantage between the sticks, with Marco Carducci emerging as arguably the best goalkeeper in the CPL.
The front of their attack, with Dominique Malonga playing as a more traditional striker, is also very imposing. Plus, the Spring season winners have more to offer from the bench if they need a late goal, since they can’t fit each of Oliver Minatel, Jose Escalante, and even Elijah Adekugbe all into one starting lineup.
Cavalry’s Fall results haven’t always been as decisive as their Spring run, with their Finals 2019 spot locked up, but it seems that every other week they remind us how lethal they can be — just ask Valour or Pacific about their September meetings with the Cavs. Their stock dropped a little in August, but they went out and thrashed Valour 8-0 to show the rest of the league that they’re not going anywhere.
Who has the tactical edge on the other?
ARMEN: Smyrniotis has trotted out a fairly consistent 4-3-3 featuring a few staples in midfield; you can usually expect to see Kyle Bekker pulling the strings at No. 10, with a pair of central midfielders behind him, a centre forward up top, and two dynamic wingers on either end. Add in high-flying fullbacks in Jonathan Grant and Kwame Awuah, and you have the recipe for a run-and-gun Forge team that isn’t afraid to control the play. Cavalry, in comparison, is built to pressure, and breathes freely on the counter; players such as Nico Pasquotti and Jose Escalante occupy far wider spaces than Tristan Borges and Kadell Thomas, who love cutting in.
There’s little separating these two outfits in terms of possession – they both average 53.5 per cent, coincidentally – but there is a margin to consider in passing effectiveness, as examined here; Forge and Cavalry average out at around 79 per cent pass accuracy, but Forge has completed nearly 800 more passes than Cavalry, indicating a touch more comfort with the ball. Add in David Edgar to the Forge backline, and you’ve closed down the one area of weakness Cavalry had previously exploited.
CHARLIE: The Cavs’ “90 minutes of hell” has proved too much for most CPL teams (and the Vancouver Whitecaps) to handle this season. They’re a team that likes to press their opponent feverishly, and they will win the ball back — if they ever give it up in the first place.
Cavalry has perfected the art of wearing their enemy down, with a midfield that has no problem recycling the ball and waiting for an opportunity to strike. Cavalry would probably be perfectly happy for Finals 2019 to be a battle for the middle third, because Julian Büscher and Nik Ledgerwood are quietly dominant in the central column; they’ll win the majority of their midfield duels and they will not cheaply give the ball away.
The Cavs’ attack is probably more diverse than Forge’s as well, since they’ve found a balance between burning opponents on the wings and playing through a more central lynchpin. In a winner-take-all two-legged tie, Cavalry may simply smother a Forge side that might prefer a more wide-open contest.
Which team’s marquee men can bring it in Finals 2019?
ARMEN: Cometh the hour, cometh the man, or so they say, and in that regard, no player has been more clutch in the Canadian Premier League than top-scorer Tristan Borges, who, alongside teammate Kyle Bekker, have made up arguably the most dynamic duo in the league.
With respect to Cavalry’s outstanding individuals, their’s is a team game; Forge has difference makers all over the field. Whether it’s Jonathan Grant from right back, Elimane Cisse from defensive midfield, Kadell Thomas or Borges out wide, Bekker in the middle, or Anthony Novak – who, I’d argue, is the top centre forward in the league with the ball at his feet – Smyrniotis can rely on a number of talents to put in consistent, high-quality showings.
But, beyond those difference makers? I’d also argue that Forge has better talent in roster spots 12-18; when you can call on Thomas, David Choiniere, or Marcel Zajac off the bench, you’re laughing.
CHARLIE: Nico Pasquotti has emerged as one of the CPL’s most electrifying players this season. He’s incredibly creative out wide for the Cavs, and although he may not have Tristan Borges’ knack for scoring, he can dance around fullbacks and pick out a teammate with a cross as well as anyone.
Also key to Cavalry’s multi-pronged attack is Sergio Camargo, whose absence has certainly been felt this past month. The Cavs are taking no chances with Camargo, ensuring he’ll be at peak fitness come the Finals, because his presence changes everything. People may have forgotten how key he is to their attack since they’ve been winning games without him for much of the Fall, but Camargo is extremely dangerous either as a scoring threat himself or as the setup man.
He and Pasquotti have already proven they can bring it against Forge as well, having combined for the goal that eliminated their Finals 2019 foes from the Canadian Championship back in June.