HAMILTON – When Forge FC and York9 FC kicked off the Canadian Premier League with an entertaining 1-1 draw on Saturday afternoon, a few themes worth tracking emerged.
Namely, the ‘905 Derby’ is now real, has history, and already has players casting shade at one another.
There was some fire out there: Kyle Bekker’s clash with Joseph Di Chiara; Manny Aparicio’s tackle on Tristan Borges, leading to one of his yellow cards; a late second for Aparicio, drawing the first red card in CPL history … familiar breeds contempt, as Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis pointed out, since “a bunch of players on that field have grown up playing against each other.”
Welshman attributed the physical style to both York9 FC’s “direct” approach and the “rough” environment of youth soccer in southern Ontario, where he and many of his cohorts came through.
One of those players? Kadell Thomas.
You’d be forgiven if the name doesn’t ring a bell. On a pitch that featured some of the more household names in all of the CPL, it was the 22-year-old Thomas who scored the 78th-minute equalizer to send the home fans off with a smile.
“He’s one of those players that you don’t know about without the CPL,” Smyrniotis told reporters after the match. “(Thomas) is one of those players that is going to surprise a lot of people this year. I’m happy for him, that he gets on the score-sheet early in his career and he’s able to bring that forward.
“He’s a young man from Brampton, (who) showed up at Sigma at 15-years-old,” introduced Smyrniotis. “A player with a bundle of energy, who didn’t know where to put all his talent sometimes.
“He’s worked hard at it. He’s one of those guys where if there is a pro league, he’s playing two, three years ago,” continued the Forge coach. “Great mentality. It’s not easy to train four-times-a-week in an amateur environment, stick to it and (think) hopefully something will come. It’s indicative of (him) to ultimately get through to this point and be able to score a goal in the inaugural game of the CPL.
“There will be many others (like him) on Forge, but most importantly, across the league.”
Thomas was short on words to describe the emotion of seeing the ball hit the back of the net in his professional debut.
“I mean, I saw Emery going down the line. When he sent that cross in, I backed up,” Thomas said, of his goal. “I waited to see if it would drop and it dropped onto my foot. I said, ‘Well, nothing else to do but just kick it,’ and it sailed into the top-right corner. And from there? It was just celebration.”
Having begun his club soccer with Brampton East and Brampton Youth in his hometown, Thomas would spend three years in League1 Ontario with Sigma, another two in junior college at Cloud County Community College and Broward College.
“It’s been a journey,” Thomas said. “Even two, three years ago I couldn’t imagine something like this in Canada.”
Before playing in front of a crowd of 17,611 fervent supporters, Thomas’ toughest experience was in front of some 800 fans. It might explain why his goal celebrations were somewhat subdued. It’s not for a lack of caring … but, perhaps, from an overwhelming feeling in the moment. He even had a celebration planned before kick-off, in case he did score.
“I did, but I forgot (to do) it,” Thomas laughed, when asked about his planned celebrations. “The baseball watch, just admiring the view.
“I didn’t know what to do. I saw it go in and I just threw my hands up, went on a run with all my teammates behind me.”
Heralded Bekker: “You got to see a lot from him: He’s very pacy, and he likes to go down the wing. It was great for him to come on in his debut and get that in his first professional game.
“I couldn’t be happier for him.”
He will be the first of many to put his name in lights in the CPL.
The second game was played on Sunday in a similarly rapturous environment, as a sold-out crowd witnessed Pacific FC defeat HFX Wanderers FC 1-0 in the Vancouver Island opener. Action resumes on Wednesday, May 1 when a fifth team, Valour FC, introduces themselves on the road against Pacific.
Next weekend, where the remaining two sides – Cavalry FC and FC Edmonton – will make their CPL debuts, cannot come soon enough.
A final word from Welshman on the inaugural match and the advent of the league: “This is the real deal.
“It can only go forward from here.”