HAMILTON – Forge FC and Cavalry FC have been on a collision course to meet in Canadian Premier League Finals for some time now, as both clubs have cruised through the Fall season.
Cavalry’s ticket to Finals 2019 was punched back in July when they finished top of the Spring table, while Forge clinched their spot last week.
Forge secured a birth in Finals 2019 with five games remaining in the Fall campaign, which raises the question: How did they manage to comfortably pull away from the chasing pack?
You could credit coach Bobby Smyrniotis, or even one of the best duos in the league, which features midfield creator Kyle Bekker and Tristan Borges, currently tied as the CPL’s top scorer with 11 goals. But don’t overlook the efforts of an unheralded player who deserves more credit for Forge’s success, especially during the Fall season.
Fullback Jonathan Grant made his presence known to casual CPL fans on Aug. 25 when his late strike helped Forge earn a 1-0 home win over Cavalry – a result that snapped the Calgary side’s seven-game unbeaten run to begin the Fall season.
But it can be argued that Grant’s biggest impact dated back to the Spring campaign when he only played a total of 12 minutes as he battled injuries, his lengthy absence hurting Forge’s chances of winning the Spring title.
“We missed him greatly in the spring; he is a key piece both with how we would like to play defensively and on the attack,” Smyrniotis offered.
As tough as it was for Forge to play without Grant, it was just as tough for Grant to watch, powerless to help his teammates.
“It was rough for us at the beginning of the year when we weren’t getting the results we wanted on the field. It (was) difficult, especially when I want to be out there and you’re thinking how much the team misses you,” said Grant, a 25-year-old Ontario native.
With a Finals 2019 berth already clinched, Forge can take a patient approach in terms of working Grant back into the line-up – he is currently out with a hamstring injury. Smyrniotis expects Grant to be back in the next week or two, but he won’t rush the defender back until he is 100 per cent.
“He’ll probably be back very soon; he is coming into full training right now and we just have to be careful with every player ensuring everyone is healthy for this final stretch,” Smyrniotis said.
Grant has had a tough time dealing with a series of injuries that have limited his playing time this season, even though it’s something he previously experienced. Grant missed all of 2017 due to injury while he was playing for Swedish club Nyköpings BIS.
“It’s difficult,” Grant said after a taking long breath. “It was tough dealing with that and it stems back from last season’s surgery, my body isn’t quite up to speed. But I know I’ll get there, it’s just a matter of time.”
Grant has shown a great deal of patience this year as he’s battled through his injury woes, the same kind of patience he displayed when he saw limited minutes with Sigma FC (where he played under Smyrniotis) and FC Montreal at the start of his career.
He first heard about the idea of the CPL three years ago while playing for Swope Park Rangers in the USL, and knew that if he could be patient and wait for the league to launch that he would get the big career break he needed.
“I had some other options, but I just thought this could really be something special,” Grant said about signing with Forge. “I was already comfortable with some of the guys who had already signed with the club, and already being familiar with Smyrniotis truly helped my decision.”
Aside from being a steady defender, Grant is also a standout guy among his teammates, with Smyrniotis lauding him for his professionalism both on and off the field.
“As a person, Jonny is simply top-notch. He is such a team guy and wanted to get out there and work non-stop. He reads the game very well and always provides good feedback amongst his teammates. He is the first guy to point at himself if something isn’t going well. He is a professional from start to finish,” Smyrniotis said.
Grant is waiting on two things to happen before this season comes to a close: the nod by the medical staff to clear him to play, and of course, the Canadian Premier League Finals. If he plays in the two legs, he’s confident he can have an impact for Forge.
“With our style of play, I think we are the best when I’m out there with the rest of the guys,” Grant said
When asked about facing off against the Cavs in Finals 20190, Grant was short and sweet: “It’s perfect, it’s exactly what we wanted.”