Balancing familiarity and business, Smyrniotis building a culture at Forge

HAMILTON — Bobby Smyrniotis might be the “same coach,” but to his squad at Forge FC — many of them he developed at Sigma FC — ‘Coach Bobby’ is now something else.

“This is a business,” explained 24-year-old Forge defender Dom Samuel.

Technically speaking, Samuel continued, his former youth coach is now his “boss.”

The difference between then — back when Smyrniotis was an Ontario-based academy coach — and now are obvious if you listen in during a sessions or two at the club’s training ground.

“Whatever we do in here is work-related,” a stern-voiced Smyrniotis tells his players in a video clip released by the club.

“The second we’re on the field we’re in our office. It’s done. Have fun about it. No problem. But make sure you come to work and we’re doing it.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, perhaps, Smyrniotis has taken on something of a different tone.

There’s familiarity between him and his roster, but things are different. They had to be different.

“There is no friends aspect to anything I do,” Smyrniotis said. “Everything is a professional aspect and the guys know that’s my approach to everything.”

To that end, some things haven’t changed. While there’s more on the line than ever before, some of his players haven’t noticed any big changes.

“Since I first began training with him at 12 years old, (Smyrniotis) has treated us all the same way that he does now. When we hit the pitch it’s strictly business, but that’s how he has gotten the best out of us,” Kwame Awuah said, adding it’s how Smyrniotis has consistently pulled the best out of his players.

It’s undoubtedly why he’s signed 13 guys he developed in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area — players who have seen their coach develop alongside them.

In terms of roster construction, Smyrniotis simply let them fall into place.

And Awuah was a big piece to the puzzle.

“He’s always been that same coach but has been just getting better over the years,” the former New York City FC midfielder said.

Kwame Awuah. (Forge FC)
Kwame Awuah. (Forge FC)

It’s what coaxed many of ‘Coach Bobby’s’ former players to reunite in Hamilton.

“I just can’t wait to play for Bobby again,” Awuah added. “He has helped me with this transition and so have the guys I used to play with when I was younger. I couldn’t ask for a better environment.

“At first it was tough, obviously, not knowing at the time what the CPL could be. But I always knew if I was to come back this would be the best option and I think I made the right decision.”

Veteran Kyle Bekker hasn’t been shy about echoing Awuah’s sentiment. One wonders if the Canadian international would have considered returning without Smyrniotis overseeing things at Tim Hortons Field.

“Bobby was a massive part in me wanting to come back to Canada,” Bekker answered. “Being a part of this was special but being able to come back with Bobby is a huge part of that.”

Samuel was just playing the waiting game before Smyrnioits was handed the reins.

“It was definitely an easy decision for me,” Samuel said. “I have been waiting for something like this for a couple of years now.

“I was just waiting for the call and when Bobby did, I couldn’t say no.”

More than a dozen players Smyrniotis developed have answered that call.

“I think whenever you build a team from zero, you need some type of familiarity to what we’re doing,” Smyrniotis stated.

Finding balance between that familiarity and the business-like mentality inside Forge FC camp could be his biggest challenge yet.