For Forge captain Kyle Bekker, that disappointing loss was the spark that lit a seven-match fuse leading to the Canadian Premier League Finals 2019 Leg 1, set to be played at Tim Hortons Field on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on OneSoccer & CBC).
“We weren’t happy about [that first encounter] and it created a bit of a competitive edge in the next one at home,” Forge captain Kyle Bekker told reporters, referencing a following tense first-leg in the Canadian Championship.
Media day in Hamilton saw the spark move closer to the rumbling cartoon powderkeg.
“They have just been competitive games. That’s what it stems from the base – two teams that don’t give up an inch,” Bekker concluded. “They’ve come down to there wire in a lot of them.”
In residential Hamilton, where the Canadian Premier League kicked off a short six months ago, Forge have been presented with a chance to complete the CPL circle, in a way, with a chance to win a professional championship to the Steel City for the first time since 1999, when their THF roommate Hamilton Tiger-Cats captured the Grey Cup.
“It’s something we talked about to be honest in preseason, as a group and as an organization,” Smyrniotis said. “With the Ticats not having a championship come here in a while … but we have a great opportunity as an organization to be able to do that as a community.”
Forge players, David Edgar included, have a rare opportunity to be the first to a league title.
“You have a chance to get your name and face up on the wall here,” Edgar told media. “It’s something where in 10-20 years you’ll be brought back for dinners and galas as the team that won it first.
“I’ve been a part of some special teams before and it creates a historic bond that nothing can come between. We’ll be in touch for years to come.”
Head coach Bobby Smyrniotis, just as he did for Forge during the inaugural game, sees a chance to let his players enjoy the moment … and the thought of creating that future bond and connection with a Finals victory.
“We want the guys to enjoy this, this is a final,” Smyrniotis said. “This is a final in the inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League, and we all know it’s not gonna happen again … So enjoy the moment, for a team enjoy what’s coming, enjoy the fact that we’re gonna have a fantastic atmosphere here tomorrow, and go about your business on the field.”
With just hours before kickoff, gameplans distributed, two teams have seen the good, bad and ugly from one another several times. Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. offered the idea of buying a timeshare somewhere in Hamilton, considering how often he’s been here in 2019
Before any property purchases are made for either team, Forge are presented with their home leg.
Hamilton will be without Bertrand Owundi and Dom Samuel for Leg 1 after a pair of suspensions, ironically due to cards given during matches with the Cavs. There was some good news Friday, however, when it was revealed Kadell Thomas has been cleared for action.
A difficult away trip to Cavalry looming, Forge will know what a first-leg advantage can do, having grabbed two one-goal leads in CONCACAF League action this summer – an experience Forge’s head coach was quick to draw from during the CPL’s banner day.
“I always go back to those two series with Antigua and Olimpia and they make us stronger,” Smyrniotis said. “You don’t wanna do is look ahead to one week from now and say what the weather’s gonna be like, or what the conditions are gonna be like … You have to look on Saturday and go about what we need to do.”
In a top-of-league season series with so much late drama, it’s hard not to draw that line back to the match that kick-started the most intriguing CPL rivalry in Year 1.
“It’s two very competitive teams,” Bekker said. “Obviously we hold each other in high regard, which is good, and it leads to competitive games.”