HAMILTON – Perhaps there was a bit of irony in the fact that the Barton St. Battalion fashioned hundreds of red cards to proudly display throughout the match.
They certainly saw plenty of red in Leg 1 of Finals 2019.
Just 24 hours before kick-off at Tim Hortons Field, both Forge FC and Cavalry FC coaches and players assured reporters that, despite seven prior encounters, neither team harboured bad blood for the other ahead of this first clash.
But, with a pair of red cards underscoring a dramatic and intense 90 minutes of football on the field – compounded by a huge penalty save, three struck crossbars from Forge’s relentless attackers, and, most importantly, a Tristan Borges goal to settle the first leg 1-0 in the home team’s favour – it’s hard not to wonder if tensions are even higher heading into Leg 2.
“That felt like a championship game,” Forge defender David Edgar began, as he rattled off his post-game answers to reporters. “To me, there’s a difference to not liking each other. A championship game, you battle it out.”
Suddenly, from beside him, Cavalry captain Nik Ledgerwood interrupted, with a cheeky smile: “How could you not like this guy here? I’ve known him for 15 years.”
So, no bad blood between two fierce adversaries, even if both Joel Waterman and star man Borges saw their 2019 seasons come to an end with a pair of red cards issued in Leg 1.
Waterman’s ejection for a handball in the box – which Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis explained was issued for deliberate handling as the last-man back – didn’t just provide a huge opportunity for Forge to score (though goalkeeper Marco Carducci kept Borges off the scoresheet from the spot, regardless).
No, it also opened the door for Forge to gain a foothold in a series that has been all square, all season.
Borges, of course, would score just minutes later, giving Forge a 1-0 lead heading into the half-time whistle.
Waterman’s absence was felt for the half an hour in-between red cards, as such. It also drew mixed reactions, post-match.
Forge captain Kyle Bekker had no problem seeing it, though.
“First one hit his hand,” he affirmed.
Carducci’s takeaway was a little more lenient: “It’s a pretty harsh one. I don’t think there’s anything deliberate about it, but it is what it is – we show our resilience always in those situations, where things go against us.”
All of this makes the result, as Cavalry captain Nik Ledgerwood describes, “a tough one to chew.”
“We’re frustrated, but in the bigger picture you have to look at it like it’s a game over two legs,” Ledgerwood lamented.
Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. offered: “When you go down a man, absolutely, you have to see out the half. We were disappointed to concede after Marco made a heroic save.”
Just after the hour mark, Borges found himself tangled up underneath substitute Jay Wheeldon. A tussle between the two drew the attention of the referee, who quickly brandished a red card after a flurry of shouting from both sets of players. The reason seemed to be a kicking-out at Wheeldon. As a result, Borges is set to miss the second leg in Calgary.
“Borges is a terrific player, but he has an edge to him,” Wheeldon Jr. offered. “Everyone talks about Jose Escalante on our team … but Borges is the same. He’s talented, but he plays with an edge. Today he got caught out with it.”
“I think the easiest thing to do is watch the video and it’s clear,” Smyrniotis countered. “That’s the only thing I can say.”
“I heard on the field that there was a kick-out, and maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t,” Trafford offered.
“Sometimes football throws you a curveball,” Wheeldon Jr. added. “We have a saying at our club: adapt and overcome. It wasn’t the best scenario to be in, but we’re still in the tite. We can take that back to Spruce Meadows and get that place rocking. We’re disappointed to lose, but we know we have a chance at home.”
Red cards or not, hatred or not, it will all come to a head on Nov. 2 when Cavalry hosts Forge FC for Leg 2 of Finals 2019.
“There was definitely testiness in the air,” Trafford offered, of the first leg. “We’ve played each other a bunch of times. We’ve both proven that we both belong here in the finals, so we’re both fighting hard to win this championship. I’m not surprised. It’s a tough one for the referee to control, because it is testy, and there’s a lot of emotions, and fouls both ways, and a lot happening on both sides, so I’m not surprised.”
Wheeldon Jr. concluded: “I think there’s a healthy respect, but neither want the other team to win. It’s another close game that could have gone out of hand. It didn’t we were very good defensively and we’ve kept the tie alive.”