CALGARY – Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis strolled into the press room at ATCO Field with his clothes soaked with champagne shortly after celebrating with his players and hoisting the North Star Shield on the pitch.
The emotions of the moment were still fresh, still raw for Smyrniotis, whose Forge side played second-fiddle to Cavalry in both the Spring and Fall seasons, only to overcome the Calgary-based club when it mattered most. And Forge did it in emphatic fashion, blanking the highest-scoring team in the CPL over two legs of Finals 2019 and clinching the championship on Cavalry’s home turf.
So, you could hardly blame the usually mild-mannered and humble Smyrniotis if he puffed out his chest a bit in the aftermath of this victory.
Having previously founded the famed Sigma FC academy that produced players the calibre of Kyle Bekker, and national team members Cyle Larin and Richie Laryea, Smyrniotis took great pride in the strong Canadian influence of his Forge side this season, especially up front.
That, in the end, was the difference and pushed Forge over the top, making them a championship club.
“We took a challenge on ourselves, a little bit of a bet on ourselves as an organization when Emery Welshman left, and we gave the reins to guys like Anthony Novak and Marcel Zajac, who many people wouldn’t do,” Smyrniotis explained.
“We don’t have many teams in the league who have put their attacking prowess of their team on Canadians. If you look at us here at Forge, if you look at the front three and everything coming in behind, it’s all Canadian. That’s a bet we took on ourselves. Why? Because I believe in it.”
Saturday’s victory was just reward for Smyrniotis, who launched Sigma after returning from Greece where he was a coach in the academy system of Olympiacos. Ever since coming back to Canada, he’s been intimately involved in player development in this country, first at Sigma and now at Forge.
“Fifteen years ago, I came back to this country and worked in the developmental side of the game. Why? Because I believe in Canadians, and I wanted to do the same thing coming into this team. That’s a bet we took on ourselves, and it’s a bet that paid off,” Smyrniotis stated.
Where does Forge go from here? How does the team get better and improve for 2020? Smyrniotis’s mind was already churning with some thoughts during Saturday’s post-match press conference, admitting that he was going to enjoy the win for a bit, but then quickly get back to work.
“We’re obviously happy where we are now. There’s no other place you’d want to be of any of the seven teams in this league, but once we get back to the drawing board, there’s always things you want to improve on. You want to be better team. We scored in every game but I think we can score more goals. Some games, maybe we didn’t get enough goals,” Smyrniotis offered.
While the attack may have to be tweaked if we take Smyrniotis at his word, Forge’s defence appears rock solid, led by veteran David Edgar. That Smyrniotis’s side came into ATCO Field in Leg 2 of Finals 2019 and banked Cavalry is no small feat, and is a testament to the old adage that defence wins championships.
“We’ve got a team that knows how to keep the ball out of our own net. We’ve got a team that knows how to play on the road. We’ve got a team that knows how to play (in Calgary). We’ve done it successfully in the past, we’ve come here and won games,” Smyrniotis said matter-of-factly.
What does being crowned CPL Champions mean for Forge FC fans who came out in droves this season? Smyrniotis said this victory wasn’t just for Forge supporters, but also for the city of Hamilton.
“Our city is passionate about its sports teams. We know how much this means to everyone back home, not only our supporters who come out to Tim Hortons Field every game and the ones who come out for a few ones. But even for the city and the community right around our stadium. They’re avid football fans. They love the Tiger-Cats, but they’ve bought into what we are and who Forge FC is,” Smyrniotis said.