When all are healthy, Forge FC are (rightly) confident that they have the best left side in the Canadian Premier League.
Look back at the highlights from their Finals 2019 win over Cavalry FC for a taste of how dominant the pairing of Chris Nanco and Kwame Awuah has been at times in the CPL. Fortunately for the two-time league champions, that particular duo will be back in 2021, with both players having re-signed with the club in the past few weeks.
“I think the last two years for the team has been amazing, to go back to back is something we set out for,” Nanco told CanPL.ca. “We try to take it one game at a time, one year at a time, but these are the accomplishments that any team and any franchise wants to create, especially with the start of a new league.”
For Nanco individually, his upward trajectory from 2019 wavered a little in 2020, with the winger missing out on eight of Forge’s 15 games last year — including all four CPL matches in the second group stage and final — due to a hamstring injury. He still did score twice for Forge in his limited time in PEI, showing off his ability prior to the injury, but Nanco himself conceded that it wasn’t exactly the individual season he was hoping for.
Nanco was, sadly, forced into a role of moral support for the final two weeks of The Island Games, as Forge rotated their front three perpetually with perhaps their best winger unavailable.
“It was definitely tough having to watch from the sidelines, no player wants to do that,” Nanco admitted. “Every player wants to be on the field and help their team win championships. It was pretty tough, but I knew that especially with the format of last year’s season, it was a short trip, so I knew that I had to stay positive because we’re in a bubble, so if every player’s not positive it kind of brings the mood of the team down.
“I had to kind of put my personal issues aside and just be there for the team in any way I could, and that had to be cheering from the sidelines, just being the fun-loving guy I try to be, just keeping the confidence and environment up there.”
Nanco did return to Forge for two of their Concacaf League games as a substitute, but the time off left him perhaps a little less dynamic than when he’s at the top of his game.
Heading into 2021, Nanco — like every Forge player this writer has spoken to in recent weeks — underlined where Forge’s ambitions lie going forward: on the international stage. Having conquered the CPL twice in two attempts, the Hamilton-based club has made progress in both of its two cracks at the Concacaf League.
Now that they’ve seen what the wider world of football is like on this continent, Forge can’t help but dream about getting back into that competition and winning it all — and ultimately competing in the Concacaf Champions League, which eluded them in 2020.
For a club with success like Forge, the next steps are all about upward momentum.
“That’s definitely a big competition for us, because as you know we’ve already won the CPL two times,” Nanco said. “So we’re always looking for more competitive ways to prove ourselves and show what our team has to offer, and what Canadian soccer has to offer.
“So this kind of more international tournament is a big thing for not only us but Canadian soccer as well, and I think we’ve shown we’re able to play at that level. We’re taking positive steps to keep moving forward in the tournament, and we’re almost there to be in the Champions League.”
Forge will have a chance to get into the Champions League in the Canadian Championship final against Toronto FC, but regardless, the club is keen to replicate and expand on their previous success at the continental level.
For Nanco, though, the focus will be on returning to his peak form, getting back to dominating the flanks with Awuah against other CPL sides.
“I have a lot to prove with me being injured for most of last year, I didn’t really have the year that I wanted to,” he admitted. “And then the first year I kinda had my ups and downs, but I finished off on a high note, so I think this third year is a big year for me individually.”
“I have a lot to prove this year,” Nanco repeated.