Welcome to CPL5x5. As we say farewell to 2023, we’ll be looking back one more time at the Canadian Premier League’s milestone fifth season, and how each of the eight clubs fared this year.
In this series, we’ll break down the full story of each team’s year within five sections: Five stats, five key players, five big moments, five quotes, and five questions for 2024.
To read the 5×5 year in review for every other CPL club, click here.
This past year was arguably the worst as a whole in the history of Forge FC. They finished the season in second place, but with just 42 points, the fewest in club history — 13 points behind rivals Cavalry FC in the race for the CPL regular season title. They only finished ahead of third-place Halifax on the fourth tiebreaker, away goals scored.
However, for the fourth time in five seasons, they ended the year as playoff champions after beating Cavalry twice in the newly formatted 2023 postseason. That included a dramatic 2-1 victory (complete with three goals in extra time) in the 2023 final.
Story of 2023
2023 CPL regular season record (W-D-L): 11-9-8
Finish: 2nd (Won 2023 CPL Final)
Goals scored: 39
Goals against: 32
Goal difference: +7
Top scorer: Woobens Pacius, Terran Campbell (10 goals)
Canadian Championship: Lost to CF Montréal 2-0 in the semifinal
A big reason for Forge’s at times lacklustre regular season was a surprisingly poor record at Tim Hortons Field. Away from home, they were actually quite good collecting 23 points (second in the league) which was the second-best road season in club history. But only collecting 19 of a possible 42 points at home was what truly lost them the regular season title race.
In the end, however, seasons are defined by trophies, and Forge once again showed what has become a trademark ability to raise their game and get results in knockout matches. That includes at Tim Hortons Field, and the lasting image of their season will be them lifting the North Star Cup in front of their home fans.
10 playoff wins
In their five seasons as a club, Forge FC have now won ten Canadian Premier League postseason matches, adding two wins to that tally this season. They have only ever lost once in the playoffs, the 2021 CPL Final to Pacific.
134 shots on target
Forge certainly still created chances this past season, with 134 shots on target, but converted just 13.22 per cent of those opportunities, with only Valour and Vancouver having a lower conversion rate.
54.45 per cent possession
Forge led the league in terms of possession this past season with 54.45 per cent. They only had the smaller share of the ball in seven of the 28 regular season matches they played.
Only four wins at home
Forge finished the season with just four home victories, the fewest in club history. Only Valour managed fewer during the 2023 season.
17 points gained from losing positions
The comeback kings of the Canadian Premier League finished second in the table despite allowing the opening goal in 15 matches this past season. They gained a league-leading 17 points from losing positions this past year.
5 Key Players
Forge’s day-one goalkeeper had arguably the best campaign of his CPL career so far in 2023. He consistently made outstanding saves to bail out the Forge backline, while keeping a league-leading nine clean sheets. He was recognized with the 2023 CPL Golden Glove award as the league’s top goalkeeper.
The experienced Canadian international central defender lived up to that pedigree in his first year in the league. James was a rock at the back for Forge, who tied with Halifax Wanderers for second fewest goals conceded in the league this past season. He was one of the three nominees for CPL Defender of the Year.
The Forge captain remains one of the league’s top players in his fifth season with the club. Bekker finished second in the league in assists, with seven, and added three goals. He added to that in the playoffs, with a further goal and assist. Bekker was nominated for the league’s Player of the Year award, and finished second in Players’ Player of the Year voting.
The 22-year-old spent large parts of the season as the second-choice striker to Terran Campbell, and spent a lot of the season out wide. That led to just three goals through his first 16 matches, but finished the year strong with seven goals in the final 11 matches. Pacius’ ten goals were tied with Campbell for second most in the CPL, and he finished third in the league in goals per 90, with 0.64.
The technically gifted winger made an instant impact after signing for Forge in July. In ten regular season matches, he scored twice, before netting the equalizer in extra time of the CPL final with a stunning strike from outside the box. One of the league’s most exciting players with the ball, he is also one of its most electrifying players from free-kick situations.
5 Big Moments
May 27, 2023 — Atlético Ottawa 0-1 Forge FC
Forge FC began the season on an absolute tear, the best start to a campaign in club history, going undefeated in their first seven matches of the season. That seventh straight result came in a 1-0 win over Atlético Ottawa, with David Choinière scoring the winner in stoppage time.
June 25, 2023 — Forge FC 4-3 Atlético Ottawa
The club’s quick start was followed by a tough first half of June, however, as they went winless in five straight, scoring just two goals in that time. They broke that streak with a dramatic 4-3 win against Atlético Ottawa on June 25. Forge did blow a two-goal lead in the second half, but Woobens Pacius played hero in the 81st minute.
August 4, 2023 — Cavalry FC 3-0 Forge FC
This resounding loss to rivals Cavalry in early August was the statement game in Forge’s first-ever regular season without a victory over Cavalry. It was also the first time in club history that they had lost to Cavalry by multiple goals. In the end, 13 points separated Cavalry and Forge in the CPL table, but these three points were the biggest example of the performance gap that existed between the two clubs for most of the season.
September 23, 2023 — Forge FC 3-1 Pacific FC
With Cavalry quickly climbing out of reach in the CPL table as the league entered its final few match weeks of the regular season, the race became about finishing second and securing a place in the first-second match under the league’s new playoff format. After conceding first, Forge equalized quickly through Rezart Rama’s first CPL goal, Woobens Pacius then scored the winner, while Jordan Hamilton added an insurance marker late in stoppage time.
October 28, 2023 — Forge FC 2-1 (a.e.t) Cavalry FC (2023 CPL Final)
There will probably never be another CPL final quite like this one. After 90 minutes of cagey, tactically advanced footy, the game broke wide open in extra time when Ali Musse looked like he had won it for Cavalry. That goal, however, only woke up Forge and they replied quickly through an absolute screamer from Béni Badibanga. Then, the moment seen around the soccer world, as Tristan Borges curled in an Olimpico to hand Forge their fourth title.
“It’s not easy to be a player at Forge. The demands that we put on them, and the demands that are put on them a little bit also by you guys in the media, and that’s a good thing. When Forge wins, of course they won. They’re supposed to win. If Forge loses, there’s something going wrong. But that’s the identity of a big club.” — Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis
“When a team is used to winning, it’s like in the DNA you know. It’s like when you look at Real Madrid even when they are down, they know that they are going to do something, and that’s why I choose this team. That’s what I miss in my game sometimes, and that’s why I was coming here to look for it.” —Forge FC attacker Béni Badibanga
“Five years, five finals, and four trophies. When it’s all said and done, it’s all about winning. I think we’ve proven every single year that we deserve what we get.” — Forge FC attacker Tristan Borges
“It has been a weird year, there were lots of ups and downs and we talked about it leading up to [the CPL final]. I mean for better or for worse we just kept going. That’s what it was, credit to the boys.” — Forge FC captain Kyle Bekker
“It’s been a year where we struggled a bit more, but also a year where we’ve shown that when we need to show up for games, we have shown up. If you take our best year in league play it was 2021, and that ended not the way we wanted.” — Forge FC midfielder/defender Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson
5 Questions for 2024
Are bounce-back seasons coming for Choinière, Borges?
It is somewhat impressive that Forge FC were able to score the second most goals in the Canadian Premier League this past season when only three of them came from the usually lethal pair of David Choinière and Tristan Borges. An injury limited Choinière to just 15 CPL matches, and he was just coming back into health as the season ended. Borges, meanwhile, went through bouts of injury himself and seemed to fall out of favour toward the end of the year
Borges actually led the league in terms of chances created per 90 (3.06) suggesting that if he can find health and consistency this coming year he is still among its most dangerous players. That goal in the CPL Final only proves that he still has the quality to be a gamebreaker, and will only give him even more confidence heading into this season. A healthy Choinière, meanwhile, will be a big boost for Forge to start the year especially as ‘big game Dave’ is the only player who has scored a goal for a CPL club in the Concacaf Champions Cup.
Can Forge find a way to stay motivated after yet another title?
There is no doubt that Forge FC spent parts of the 2023 CPL season in something close to cruise control. They often needed opponents to land the first blow to get them into matches, as they scored first just ten times this past season, and lacked the killer instinct they have had in the past.
Perhaps bringing in some new faces could add a spark and some healthy competition, after Forge made just five changes to their roster between 2022 and 2023. Consistency is important, and has been a big reason for their success, but Béni Badibanga’s performance in the CPL Final showed why fresh ideas are important at times as well.
How do early Concacaf matches affect the start to the season?
The offseason was always going to be relatively short for Forge given the fact that they won the CPL Final and in doing so qualified for round one of the 2024 Concacaf Cup. With the schedule released, however, they found out just how early they will be in action, as they play the first leg of their series against Liga MX side Chivas Guadalajara on Wednesday, February 7 (8:00 p.m. ET) at Tim Hortons Field.
That expedites the need to not only start training, but start to integrate any potential new players who might be crucial to that match, and February 13th’s second leg. Forge have certainly dealt with short turnarounds before, and in fact, in some cases welcomes them, but it is still a storyline to watch especially as it relates to their start to the 2024 CPL season.
Is Béni Badibanga primed to become a CPL star?
The Belgian youth international joined Forge in July and not only hit the ground running, but also dribbling, creating chances, and scoring screamers at an elite rate. He scored twice in ten matches, and added a third in the CPL final, but there really was the sense that he was just getting started.
Now equipped with an offseason and a familiarity with the Canadian Premier League, 2024 could be a massive season for the 27-year-old. He has all the quality to challenge for some of the league’s biggest awards next year.
Can Forge turn Tim Hortons Field back into a fortress?
In their first four years as a club, Tim Hortons Field was one of the most difficult away days in the league, as Forge won 24 of the 38 matches they played at home (just over 63 per cent). In 2023, they won just four of fourteen, or roughly 28.5 per cent. As the crowds continue to grow in Hamilton thanks to the consistent success of this team, the expectation next year will be a significant improvement at ‘the donut box’. The most obvious fix? Scoring first, Forge did that just three times in their 14 home matches (and conceded first again in the CPL Final), not exactly a recipe for success.