It seems crazy, but there’s a Canadian Premier League game about to be played.
As Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis answered questions ahead of his club’s Island Games opener on Thursday night against Cavalry FC, the immediacy of the 2020 season began to set in.
As though he hadn’t skipped a beat, though, Smyrniotis settled quickly into his rhythm of breaking down the rapid-fire regular season to come. As CPL champions, Forge FC arrived in Prince Edward Island with a target on their backs that’s been shrunk only minimally by time.
However, the Forge boss is confident there’s been enough of a reset around the league that his side isn’t too worried.
“We know we’ve got a special opportunity in a short timespan to do something that’s not easy to do,” Smyrniotis told reporters on a Zoom call. “The hardest thing to do in sports — team sports, individual sports — is win a championship. The hardest thing after you’ve won a championship is to be able to repeat.”
He added: “Going into this event, ‘favourites’ sometimes are for the pundits and the media, and that’s in a good way. But for us, we know that everyone is ready to go, everyone is starting from zero in this event. We’ve got eight teams, we’ve got teams in the league this year that have changed dramatically from last year, so I think this year we’ll have a lot of different football.”
That said, of course, Forge are champions for a very good reason. From one to 22, their squad on paper looks as deep, if not significantly deeper, than any other side in the league, and what makes them special is that most of the bench can enter a game at almost any position.
With games coming so quickly in PEI — starting Thursday, Forge will play four times in 10 days — that depth could be the X-factor that helps them stay strong throughout.
“I believe our first four games we go with two full days in between each match,” Smyrniotis pointed out. “So, I think depth is a very important thing and we have to use that. You look at things on paper, I think we’re very well set up for that, but we all know that sometimes paper doesn’t mean a lot. We have to be able to go on the field and execute.”
He also provided an update on his squad, delivering the good news that all 22 players Forge has brought to PEI are fit and available for Thursday’s kickoff.
As far as other updates go, Smyrniotis gave a glowing review of the facilities in Charlottetown, as well as the setup in the CPL’s bubble. He added that the turf field at the University of PEI is as good as he could’ve hoped for, saying that his team is pleased with their ability to move the ball along the ground on the field — although its dimensions are slightly smaller than what Forge is used to at Tim Hortons Field.
Finally, Smyrniotis cautioned that tactics right off the bat at The Island Games may not be as refined as clubs might like.
“Remember that none of our teams have been able to play a friendly match against an opponent,” he said. “And you’ve only had the larger part of maybe two or three weeks to actually play full intra-squad games against each other…. For some teams, it may actually take a couple of games to actually hit the stride the coaches are looking for.”
As the buzz around matchday one of the 2020 CPL season comes to a head, the Forge coach offered up the words that every player, coach, and staffer from around the league has been thinking:
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “We’ve been training a lot over these past few months.