Forge FC’s Bobby Smyrniotis is a well-prepared coach.
He has plans about plans – sometimes plans for other plans – for the way his side approaches all aspects of a Canadian Premier League season.
Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, all Smyrniotis can do is plan. He can’t put plans into practise.
When pre-season training camp was shut down in March for all eight CPL clubs, Forge’s typically over-prepared coach was sent into a tizzy. Evaluation of trialists, signing youth prospects, and luring an impressive international signing were all left unchecked on his to-do list ahead of the 2020 season.
“We’re very meticulous about players and why we bring them in, and that kinda changed by March, so we ended up being a bit more patient,” Smyrniotis told CanPL.ca. “While it wasn’t done earlier, it’s an interesting time to be working with our targets.”
Forge has 19 players signed for the 2020 season, including 17 returnees from its CPL Championship-winning side, leaving space for a few more singings. Smyrniotis’ remaining priorities to fill out his roster are simple: One attacker, one midfielder, one defender.
“The goal is to bring in a player on each line – that’s something we’re looking at right now,” Smyrniotis said.
“One player in the attacking line – whether that’s a striker or versatile attacking option. Someone who can play in the front line and make us just a bit more dangerous.
“Another midfielder, and another player in the back, and we’re looking at a complete squad.”
Smyrniotis admits COVID-19 has hampered his recruitment strategy. For one, Forge nearly inked a “high profile” international before pre-season shuttered, with Smyrniotis attributing the player’s “cold feet” during the pandemic as the reason why the deal fell through.
Smyrniotis famously signed most of his championship-calibre squad from League1 Ontario and his former youth program, Sigma FC. As York9 find new avenues for young talent, Smyrniotis hints at a similar path.
“We’re talking with some local talent. We’ve pulled from League1 Ontario, and places like Sigma, but it’s not directly from there, so to speak,” Smyrniotis explained. “There were some good young players we had in training camp.
“But you’re not bringing these guys on to fill a quota. You’re bringing them along because they deserve to play, because they need to be. We want guys who can step on the field and get the job done right away like Tristan Borges did last season.”
An injection of youth appears to be part of Smyrniotis’ greater plan. Forge has the second-oldest CPL squad by average age (25.3), just behind Valour FC (26).
“Year two and year three, I want to see quite a bit more youth in the squad,” Smyrniotis said. “We want to put a bit more youth into the team as we move forward.
“We have a couple of those young players we’re working with, and we’re looking forward to pulling the trigger.”
With his pre-season preparations thwarted, Smyrniotis is staying busy with other plans, including coaching during COVID-19. The Forge gaffer is fascinated with optimization in the world of Zoom calls, so much so he’s compared his setups to those at big European clubs.
“It was great seeing we were doing similar stuff,” Smyrniotis said. “Everyone has come to the same conclusion and adapted similarly.”
Forge’s training day starts at 10 a.m. Players are required to upload data from their GPS tracking devices by 1:30 p.m. after doing their workouts, giving staff ample time to review player workloads. Smyrniotis has also led his group through a few mental hurdles, including “extensive” reviews of each CPL club and how they could lineup.
“We’ve tried to keep the guys engaged. I think all the CPL teams are doing similar stuff,” Smyrniotis stated.
“We’ve broken down games from last year, had a bunch of Zoom hangouts. It’s not easy for a player just to run. You have to keep it fresh and different.”
“We asked pretty early on if we wanted guys engaged as a group in the evening, too,” said Smyrniotis, adding the team has had several music and soccer trivia nights to pass the time. “The biggest clubs in the world probably don’t do that, but the clubs we talked to who tried it said the players liked it (because) they could see the other guys and have a laugh.
“That’s what athletes are. They’re used to being in the locker room. It’s trying to keep everyone sane, as they say nowadays.”