It’s almost time to crown the first ever Canadian Premier League champion.
We’ve known for a few weeks that Cavalry FC and Forge FC will be the combatants in Finals 2019, but we’re inching closer to this marquee showdown, with Leg 1 slated to kick off on Saturday at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field at 3:30 p.m. ET.
With both Cavalry and Forge’s October run-ins now behind us, though, the CPL Editorial crew (John Molinaro, Armen Bedakian, Marty Thompson, and Charlie O’Connor-Clarke) are back to revisit that debate. More specifically, which team will come out on top from the first 90 minutes of Finals 2019 on Saturday?
Bedakian’s Pick: Forge FC
Insofar as Cavalry will probably feel like the favourites heading into Leg 2, this is not as straightforward of a series as one might expect. Tim Hortons Field has been rather kind to Forge FC this season, particularly in the Fall, where they won seven, and lost just once over nine home tilts. Of particular importance is a pair of 1-0 wins over Cavalry FC in the Fall – sure, a 2-1 loss to Cavalry in Hamilton during the Spring puts a damper on the idea that Forge might have some immunity at home, but you’re only as good as your last go at things, and in that regard, Forge has held things together quite nicely in Steeltown.
It’s why I’m leaning toward Bobby Smyrniotis’ side in Leg 1, though, I’d imagine the game will be truly decided in Leg 2, where a goal-less draw is … unlikely.
So, for Leg 1? Advantage, Hamilton.
Thompson’s pick: A draw
Forge has an edge at home, for sure. But with suspensions, injuries and general uneasiness of a first major final, they will fail to overcome Cavalry.
These are two nervy teams playing in what will be many players’ first professional final. Cavalry had absolutely zero expectations set on them in the Canadian Championship. Same goes for Forge in the Concacaf League. But now, after going neck-and-neck in the Canadian Premier League regular season, both are even favourites to win it all. With a tough trip to ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows to follow, I expect Forge to play a bit more tentatively than in past home matches.
Look at the last encounter on Oct. 16. Forge bunkered, worked to keep Cavalry off the scoresheet for just the fourth time in 2019 and, even after going down a man, tried to nick a goal. It worked, with David Choiniere plucking a winner, but it was far from a perfect defensive showing.
They lost Dominic Samuel for Leg 1. Bertrand Owundi has already been ruled out due to yellow card accumulation. Alexander Achinoti-Jönsson is likely still out as well, making three defensive starters out for this first leg. Kwame Awuah will likely shift into the defensive midfield role, making depth choices even deeper for the Hamiltonians at fullback.
Good enough for a clean sheet and good enough for a goal, I don’t think Forge – all eyes on them in their home half of the final – will make both happen on Saturday.
O’Connor-Clarke’s pick: Cavalry FC
Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is a smart manager, and he’ll know an opportunity when he sees it. His side has the luxury of playing the away leg against a Forge backline that will be without Bertrand Owundi and Dominic Samuel (both suspended), two key members of Bobby Smyrniotis’ defence.
Forge will, of course, still have plenty of experience at the back with David Edgar beside Daniel Krutzen, but they’re a lot less deep without Owundi and Samuel. Cavalry will surely come out hard to try and put as much pressure as possible on the home team’s defence, attempting to wear them down over 90 minutes. With so much depth in their squad, players such as Sergio Camargo or Nico Pasquotti can afford to run Forge’s depleted backline ragged, with a slew of fresh and talented attackers waiting in the reserves to do the same.
The pressure will be on Forge in Leg 1 to earn some kind of result, with a daunting trip to ATCO Field to follow. Priority number one has to be to keep Cavalry off the scoresheet, since an away goal at Tim Hortons Field would be a massive leg up heading into the second game. Certainly, the Cavs looked the worse of the two sides when they met in Hamilton last week, but they’ve proven themselves capable of a big road result in a two-legged tie in the past.
I’m all about home-field advantage, especially in a playoff setting. Still, while Forge FC have been lights out at Tim Hortons Field this season, especially in the Fall campaign, I can’t help but feel that getting a result in Leg 1 is a bridge too far for them when you consider the opposition.
There has been a swagger about Cavalry FC this year, an attitude amongst all the players that they expect to win every time they step on the field. I had the sense from watching the Cavs late in the Fall season that games were won before a ball was even kicked, such was the way that opponents cowered when they played Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side.
Add in the fact that Bobby Smyrniotis’ team is dealing with a rash of suspensions and injuries, and you have to think Cavalry are salivating at the prospect of using their pressing game to put even more pressure on Forge on Saturday.
Forge wasn’t in action last weekend, so they’ll be well rested against a Cavalry team that has to fly to Ontario after another Al Classico win on Saturday. That being said, it won’t be enough to tip the scales in Forge’s favour against a Cavalry team that will be looking to end this two-legged series before it even goes back to ATCO Field.