Leg 1 was a wild and contentious affair, featuring five yellow cards, two expulsions, a bit of controversy and a highlight-reel goal from one of the best players in the league. So, what will Leg 2 of Finals 2019 bring on Saturday in Calgary?
But even if we assume Borge’s suspension is overturned and he plays on Saturday, I still like Cavalry’s chances of overturning the one-goal deficit and earning the result they need to lift the North Star Shield. Why do I say that? Because for all of Forge’s domination in Leg 1, and outplaying Cavalry by a wide margin, they only managed one goal. They could and should have put the series away. Instead, the allowed Cavalry to stay alive in the tie, and the Calgary-based side is going to make them pay for that in the return leg on Saturday at ATCO Field, where they’ve suffered only one regular-season loss all year.
Look for Cavalry to come out with a lot more purpose to start Leg 2 than they did in Hamilton last weekend, putting Forge on the back foot with their effective pressing game. It’ll be all downhill for the visitors after that.
Bedakian’s pick: Cavalry FC
Last week, I selected Forge FC to win the first leg, and the Hamiltonians proved me right by defeating Cavalry 1-0 at Tim Hortons Field. So, why the change of mind? Two things stood out from the post-game formalities: Tommy Wheeldon Jr. seemed the happier of the two managers during his post-match news conference, and the fact that, as it stands right now and despite a possible reversal of the red card, Tristan Borges will be unavailable for Forge in Leg 2.
If and/or until Borges’ red card is rescinded, Forge will be down not just a body – though that’s not too big a problem, what with so many options on Bobby Smyrniotis’ bench. No, Forge would be without their key attacking character, arguably the only player on the field who has the ability to change a match on its head. You may be wondering, well, does that really matter? Forge has the 1-0 lead, after all. That’s certainly fair. But, if you think Cavalry FC will be held off the board at home in this, the one-hundredth match of the 2019 Canadian Premier League season, then you certainly have more faith than I (despite listening to plenty of Jesus is King over the weekend).
My predictions? Cavalry will score; Forge can’t answer; Cavalry scores a second, and it’s game over. 2-0 Cavalry in the second leg, 2-1 on aggregate, team of destiny lifts the North Star Shield, and the party belongs to the faithful locals who brave the cold (and possible rain, sleet, or snow) on Nov. 2 at ATCO Field, Spruce Meadows.
Let’s not forget that Forge has the advantage here. Up a goal in the tie, their objective is easier – starting with a nil-nil draw.
The question therein lies: Can Forge’s defence hold up in Leg 2? To me, they absolutely can.
Bobby Smyrniotis has managed to get quite a few things right against Cavalry in recent weeks, dating back to that home-and-home in October. Back-to-back home clean sheets against the CPL’s best team in the regular season is quite a feat – especially considering the single (rather toothless) shot on goal they conceded Saturday. And they’ll have defensive reinforcements for the final leg as Bertrand Owundi and Dominic Samuel return from suspensions. Forge has blanked Cavalry at home before, in case you were wondering.
On the other side, I’m confident Forge can sneak an away goal, something that Cavalry failed to do in Leg 1. Smyrniotis’ side has scored at least once in every single match against the Cavs, home and away.
So, there it is: Forge capture the North Star Shield away from home and become the first Canadian Premier League Champions.
O’Connor-Clarke’s pick: Forge FC
I’m changing my tune on this one after picking Cavalry in Leg 1. I’ve never seen the Cavs look as toothless as they did in Hamilton — three shots, and less than a third of possession? It was a very uncharacteristic performance from the Spring and Fall winners.
Forge showed that they’ve learned over the year how to shut down Cavalry; they made players such as Nico Pasquotti and Dominique Malonga almost non-factors, pinning the Cavs in their own half and assailed them from the flanks.
The loss of Tristan Borges for Leg 2 is a tremendous blow to Forge, of course, but they’ve succeeded on the strength of their depth more than perhaps any other CPL team this year. Borges leaves big shoes to fill (figuratively, of course), but the likes of David Choinière or even Kadell Thomas — who returned for a cameo appearance at the end of Saturday’s game — have been waiting for an opportunity like this.
Coach Bobby Smyrniotis prides himself on having a versatile team that won’t be doomed by a hole in the lineup, even if that hole comes in the shape of the best player in the league.
They’ll probably need to score, since it’s unlikely they can hold Cavalry off for 90 minutes at Spruce Meadows, but frankly, all the pressure is on the Cavs heading into Leg 2.