Looking back at the 5 best matches from the 2023 CPL season

From the opening day right up until the final, the 2023 Canadian Premier League campaign was absolutely enthralling.

There were 59 leads relinquished in the league’s 112 regular season matches. A stunning 52 goals were scored after the 80-minute mark. Meanwhile, matches were more competitive than ever as 71 per cent of regular season matches ended in either a draw, or were decided by a goal or less. All five 2023 CPL playoff matches were decided by a single goal.

If you, like us, are already missing CPL action on your weekends, it might be worth firing up the OneSoccer app and rewatching a few of these instant classics in their entirety.

Here are five of the most memorable matches from the 2023 Canadian Premier League season:

Vancouver FC 3-6 Pacific FC – June 2, 2023

June 2, 2023 was a day for the Canadian Premier League record books. Pacific FC’s first-ever trip to the lower mainland to take on rivals Vancouver FC at the Langley Events Centre ended as the highest-scoring match in CPL history, with nine goals scored between the two British Columbia rivals.

Pacific FC got off to an incredibly quick start as defender Amer Didić scored less than three minutes into the match from a corner kick. Just three minutes later, however, Vancouver equalized through Min-jae Kwak. The match then saw another regular occurrence during the 2023 CPL season, a world-class goal, as Pacific FC captain Josh Heard sent a screamer into the top corner in the 24th minute.

Just before halftime, however, came another piece of CPL history. TJ Tahid equalized the match, and at just 16 years of age, became the youngest goalscorer in league history.

Unfortunately for the hosts, that was their last true moment to celebrate as Pacific ran away with the match in the second half. Substitute Ayman Sellouf took over, scoring in the 66th minute, setting up Easton Ongaro in the 68th minute and then winning a penalty in the 80th minute that Manny Aparicio converted. The final score wasn’t particularly close, but nine goals is nine goals.

Forge FC 4-3 Atlético Ottawa – June 25, 2023

It is a match that might have been a key turning point in the season of eventual CPL playoff champs Forge FC.

Heading into their June 25 clash against Atlético Ottawa, the Hamilton side were in the midst of their worst stretch of the season. They were winless in their last five, with four of those being losses, and had won just one of their first six matches of the season at Tim Hortons Field.
That dismal form didn’t seem like it was going to get much better when Gabriel Antinoro scored one of the fastest goals in CPL history, just 22 seconds into the match. But that ultimately only ignited the fireworks that followed.
Things quickly turned ugly for Ottawa, who scored a brutal own goal in the fourth minute, before an under-hit back pass in the 11th minute allowed Forge to take the lead through Terran Campbell. The Forge striker then added another before halftime on a lovely assist from Tristan Borges.
Ottawa, however, wasn’t done and in the 64th minute, Maxim Tissot scored a worldie free kick to get them back into the match. Gianni dos Santos then equalized in the 72nd minute.
But Forge would not be denied three points on the day, and in the 81st minute, a fantastic delivery from Kwasi Poku was headed past Nate Ingham by Woobens Pacius to hand the hosts a dramatic 4-3 victory.

Atlético Ottawa 3-3 York United – August 5, 2023

The history of matchups between Ontario rivals Atlético Ottawa and York United has been one of draws. Nine of the 15 all-time meetings between the two sides have ended tied. But perhaps none of those draws was more entertaining than a 3-3 affair on August 5 in Ottawa.

A match played between two sides deep in the playoff chase, the visiting York United got off to a great start, when Brian Wright opened the scoring against his former side in the 24th minute. Kévin Dos Santos added a second for the Nine Stripes in the 26th minute.

Ottawa captain Carl Haworth, however, willed his side back into the match with a pair of excellent goals. First, he picked off a pass played out of the back by York and slalomed through their side before scoring Ottawa’s opener. In the second half, he equalized the match from a lovely free kick.

York United then got an almost comically lucky bounce just three minutes later, one that deflected off the post and the back of Ottawa keeper Nate Ingham and into the net, taking the lead in the 62nd minute. But there was to be one more twist in the tale, as an incredible cross from Rubén del Campo was headed home by Diego Espejo for an 83rd-minute equalizer.

Away from home, this result definitely ended up favouring York United, as in the end just two points separated them and Ottawa for the CPL’s fifth and final playoff spot.

Halifax Wanderers 3-2 Atlético Ottawa – September 18, 2023

In a critical late-season clash between two sides who at the time were tied in the CPL table and both looking to secure a spot above the playoff line, Atlético Ottawa travelled to the Wanderers Grounds on September 18. What played out was one of the most dramatic matches of the 2023 campaign.

Former Wanderers attacker Sam Salter thought he had opened the scoring just five minutes into the match, but was ruled to be offside. A few minutes later, however, his volley attempt somehow snuck past Yann Fillion to give the visitors an early lead.
Ottawa remained in front until the 49th minute, when Massimo Ferrin snuck behind their defence and slid home an equalizer. Minutes later, Lorenzo Callegari played a perfect ball over the top into the path of Jordan Perruzza who headed home to give the hosts the lead. In stoppage time, however, Salter looked to have had the last laugh as a chaotic few moments in the Halifax box resulted in his effort being deflected past Fillion.
But the determined Wanderers came right back, and after Salter had struck in the first minute of stoppage time, they scored the winner in the second minute as Zachary Fernandez went on an outstanding solo run and played a low cross that Tomas Giraldo slid home for the winner.

Unfortunately for them, this was another example of a classic match this season that Atlético Ottawa were involved in, but in a losing effort. This match came in the midst of a frankly unbelievable finish to the season for the 2022 regular season winners during which Ottawa lost five of their last seven matches of the season on goals in the 88th minute or later.

Forge FC 2-1 Cavalry FC (a.e.t.) – October 28, 2023 (CPL Final)

Sure, the opening 90 minutes were typical of a final, but all anyone will remember from Forge’s incredible triumph over Cavalry, other than perhaps a Triston Henry save or two, was what happened in extra time. Those breathtaking two 15 minute periods will go down in CPL history forever.

It took 101 minutes for the first goal of the match, a quite spectacular first-time curling effort from Ali Musse. At that moment Cavalry surely thought they had won a match that to that point had been incredibly cagey.

Forge, as they always do, had other ideas, and in stoppage time of the first period of extra time, Béni Badibanga delivered a back-post screamer that equalized the match from just outside of the top of the Cavalry box.

Surely that meant penalties were coming right? Not if Tristan Borges had anything to say about it. By now, you’ve probably seen all the different angles and edits multiple times, but well and truly this is a goal that is worth watching for the content, quality and just sheer cinema any time you come across it.

Across all major leagues and knockout competitions, having a team score first and then still lose in the same extra time period is rare to non-existent. It just doesn’t happen.

But it did.