There’s an old adage in sports, that, while it’s exceedingly hard to win a championship, it’s even tougher to defend one. That idea has been in the minds of Forge FC players ever since they hoisted the North Star Shield back on November 2.
As they set out to prepare for the 2020 season, the prevailing mood among the CPL champions was that success would by no means come easily in their second season, especially with the arms race unfolding between their competitors.
“We have a lot more to prove,” defender Kwame Awuah told CanPL.ca. “Obviously it’s good winning a championship, but being able to do it again is even tougher.”
While no CPL club can fairly be called the league’s Evil Galactic Empire after just one year, the inaugural champions will certainly have a target on their backs in their second season. They did not set out to make friends — Kyle Bekker especially so — but rather to win football matches, which they accomplished for the most part.
Now, they’ve earned themselves a little confidence, and they’re embracing the idea that challenger clubs may want to knock them down.
“We all go on the field thinking that there’s, not an arrogance to our team, but a confidence in our guys,” Awuah said. “I mean, if people are looking at facing us saying, ‘We want to beat these guys,’ that means we’ve done something really well.”
Forge certainly brought out a fire in opponents last season, with the likes of Tristan Borges and co. keen to get under their rivals’ skin.
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This year, Awuah feels they’ll have to be even stronger to reach the same heights as they did in 2019, with their inaugural campaign far from perfect.
“We lost a couple games we shouldn’t have lost, we drew a couple games we shouldn’t have drew,” Awuah said of Forge’s 2019 season. “It’s just about closing out games, trying to kill off games quicker than usual. There’s some close games that we’ve had because we couldn’t finish. I think it’s just having more of a killer mentality.”
On an individual level, Awuah is looking forward to sharpening his skills at the left-back position. Last year, and for much of his career, he’s cycled around through the midfield and defence a little, but the fullback spot is where he was at his best in 2019.
Moving to the flank was a return of sorts to where Awuah is most comfortable. He played in central midfield during his time in MLS with New York City FC — and to be fair, if Patrick Vieira tells you to play there, you do so.
“Going forward I think (left-back) is my primary position,” Awuah said. “I had the opportunity to be coached by one of the best midfield players in history when I was at (NYCFC), so I learned a lot in that position. I think I can play that position at a high level. But I think my abilities, my physical attributes help me in either position, but mostly left-back.”
Indeed, his ability to move the ball with pace up the flank and cut in toward the box was part of what made Awuah one of the most dangerous in that position in 2019. His partnership with left-winger Chris Nanco was particularly key to Forge’s championship.
That said, coach Bobby Smyrniotis prizes players who can plug into multiple spots in a lineup, with “versatility” an oft-repeated quality in what he looks for in players. Awuah, then, is happy to play wherever he’s needed most.
“(Smyrniotis) constructed the team in that way where, no matter where we put in players, the ideology wouldn’t change,” he explained. “Where we wanted to get on the field in terms of possession wouldn’t change drastically, so I think that was important to keep continuity.”
True continuity, of course, would be winning another CPL championship.
Once this season kicks off, Awuah is confident that Forge is up to that challenge.