HALIFAX – With only three loses in the Spring season and three in the Fall season, Forge FC is a puzzle few teams can solve.
It may seem counterintuitive to look at the last place HFX Wanderers FC for hints on how to beat a team that finished 20 points ahead of them in the Fall standings, but on closer look there are some clues to the secret of beating Forge.
After all, the Wanderers did pick up points in three of four games vs. the Hamilton side, with one win and two draws. Those two draws were almost losses for Forge FC as well, but late heroics salvaged points in both games. An 81st-minute goal from Tristan Borges on Sept. 15 ensured a 2-2 result and then three days later, David Edgar found the back of the net in the stoppage time in a 1-1 stalemate.
“I think Forge, because of the way they play and the confidence in which they play, they push a lot of players forward and at times their midfield can be exposed,” Wanderers coach Stephen Hart told CanPL.ca.
“And once you can take advantage of that in the transition, I mean, really anything can happen for you.”
Similar to Newton’s third law — for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction — if Forge FC are pushing players forward up the field, that means there are openings elsewhere.
“They’ve also shown some vulnerability in set play situations as well. Though not a lot, but those are the two areas I think really can be exploited,” Hart offered.
While the Wanderers weren’t able to score off set plays in those two September games, they were able to expose the backline of Forge FC when they did score. The first goal in the 2-2 draw came when goalkeeper Christian Oxner got the ball deep and the Wanderers made quick passes through the midfield to open up Akeem Garcia.
In fact, the goal was similar to the late winner from Dominique Malonga when Cavalry FC defeated Forge 2-1 on Oct. 9. A long ball from ‘keeper Marco Carducci led to the play that eventually saw Cavalry snatch a win.
“We looked at their qualities, we knew they would have a lot of ball possession against us and they would push players forward. We kind of thought, well in the transition, if you win the ball in certain areas then you can exploit the space in the midfield then their backline can be back-peddling a little bit and hopefully you can make something happen in transition,” Hart said while analyzing how his players were able to create goals against the Hamilton side.
If Hart’s squad was looking to catch the Forge backline back-peddling, Cavalry may be able to do the same — especially with defenders Bertrand Owundi suspended for Leg 1 and Dominic Samuel out for the second leg thanks to yellow cards late in the season.
One of the elements that make Forge such a dominant squad, according to Hart, is the way they can get penetration out wide and have players who can come off the bench and contribute in a similar way.
“They have a team understanding,” Hart concluded. “They have some very good players, some of which can change a game even when they’re not playing at their best.”