When the Canadian Premier League Finals are all said and done, Cavalry FC and Forge FC will have played each other nine times over just six months of action. Once every 20 days.
As we know, however, scheduling can’t be that evenly spread out.
Instead, we’ve had clusters of Hamilton vs. Calgary matches scattered around the Canadian footballing calendar. We were treated to two back-to-back Canadian Championship matches, Forge’s streak-ending win in Calgary and, most recently, two home-and-home encounters in October with Finals 2019 looming.
Seeing the two top teams measure themselves against one another after they’ve earned spots in a final is interesting, to say the least. Awkward for the teams? Sure, they don’t want to show too much of their hand. It’s still intriguing for the neutrals who get to see the CPL’s best compete a few more times.
It also, naturally, drops a few hints about what’s to come…
Elimane Cisse, who you’d barely describe as an attacking midfielder, played as a striker/false nine. There was the curious case of starting Jonathan Grant as a right-winger, only to be subbed off after 25 minutes of play reportedly, according to OneSoccer, because he was under the weather.
Both teams have had their final season matchups lined up for quite some time, if Bobby Smyrniotis and Tommy Wheeldon Jr. are to be believed.
Therefore, it’s easy to assume there was some avoidance of espionage, along with tedious squad rotation and fitness concerns.
“We’ve had these three matches lineup up for a while,” Wheeldon Jr. told OneSoccer before the match. “The finals are all about rhythm.”
Borges and Malonga still dangermen
What are locked are both side’s big difference-makers: Dominique Malonga and Tristan Borges.
Both Borges and Malonga started in either of these two Finals 2019 previews this Fall, alternating matches like two bulls trying not to cross paths in a ring. Both managers seem keen to protect their club’s prizefighter and potential tie-winning weapon.
Malonga’s strength has been a particularly difficult issue to deal with for Forge’s backline all season – dating back to the first of their two Canadian Championship encounters at Tim Hortons Field. Borges, meanwhile, can put any CPL defender on their backfoot…
Forge’s backline will be wounded
Forge’s defence could be suspect come Leg 1 in Hamilton at Tim Hortons Field thanks to a pair of high-profile suspensions.
First, Bertrand Owundi earned his fourth yellow card on the season against Cavalry on Oct. 9, triggering a suspension to be served in the first of two Finals 2019 tilts.
Then, on Wednesday, Dominic Samuel was subject to a tragic double yellow card, ruling him out of the second leg following a controversial collision with Cavalry’s Jose Escalante.
You could argue Escalante sold that second Samuel yellow, tumbling to the ground in such a way. If so, it’s a stroke of cunning Central American football genius – two matches against your Finals 2019 opponent, two players ruled out of the away leg. Advantage Cavalry.
Shifting David Edgar and Daniel Krutzen to the middle, Smyrniotis will have to move any pair of Kwame Awuah, Jonathan Grant and Klaidi Cela to starting fullback roles. A move that could cause issues at other positions…
Nik Ledgerwood doubtful
Cavalry doesn’t exactly have a fresh slate to players to choose from either.
A key moment from Wednesday’s match came in the first half when Cavs captain Nik Ledgerwood went to ground after a collision with Kwame Awuah.
Blood gushing from the captain’s head, the 34-year-old was helped off the pitch and went straight to the dressing room. Fear of a concussion warranted Ledgerwood’s experience would be a huge loss – even if a more-than-capable Elijah Adekugbe comes in to replace.
Home is still sweet … home
Cavalry and Forge have only lost three times total across 27 home games. Two defeats came to each other, with Forge’s Fall opening loss to FC Edmonton the only “upset” it suffered. It’s then fitting that Forge and Cavalry split this late-season home-and-home.
Is one home-field advantage greater than the other? Sure, it’s probably Cavalry at ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows. Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s hasn’t lost at home since June, aptly when Kyle Bekker scored a winner on Forge’s only shot of the match.
Leg 1 in Hamilton is key, for both sides.
Still a flair for the dramatics
Watch the last 20 minutes of Wednesday’s match. Forge, ahead by one, have Dominic Samuel sent off after a second yellow. They looked in control, too. But if there’s one thing to count on in a Forge-Cavalry encounter, it’s late chances.
Jose Escalante challenged goalkeeper Triston Henry with an off-the-post chip, Malonga came close at the back post, Escalante in on goal in injury time … you get the idea.
Cavalry gave Forge quite the scare, something both sides of this tie should be used to…
Think a rainy injury time in Hamilton early in the season or the first leg of the Canadian Championship or Jonathan Grant’s 79th-minute beauty in late August.