Final Score: CF Montréal 2-0 Forge FC
Goalscorers: Lassiter 54′, Ibrahim 78′
2023 Canadian Championship
Match in a minute or less
CF Montréal will play in the 2023 Canadian Championship final, after they defeated CPL side Forge FC 2-0 at Stade Saputo in the first of Wednesday’s semifinal ties.
The visitors from Hamilton opened the match well and held firm for the entire first half, going blow-for-blow with the MLS side Montréal as they went into halftime scoreless. The hosts came out of the break firing, though, and they scored in less than 10 minutes as a long-range Ariel Lassiter strike took a deflection off Alessandro Hojabrpour and trickled into the net. After a slew of Montréal chances that followed, Sunusi Ibrahim ultimately put the game to bed in the 78th minute as his powerful shot from in close beat Triston Henry to make it 2-0.
CF Montréal now move on to the final, where they’ll visit either Pacific FC or Vancouver Whitecaps to play for the Voyageurs’ Cup.
No fear in Forge’s first half but can’t find a way through
Forge FC will tell you they’ve played in far more daunting environments than Stade Saputo, which is absolutely true. They’ve been to San Pedro Sula and San Salvador, and they’ve played at the Azteca.
Still, this had to be one of the most hotly-anticipated games Forge have played, in a venue that was incredibly unkind to them a year ago.
Drawing on the experience honed at this club over four years of international and domestic success, Forge entered a Major League Soccer venue without an ounce of fear. From kickoff, they showed a commitment to moving the ball patiently as they always do in CPL matches, sticking to foundational tactics that comprise their identity.
Individual players ventured aggressively — Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson, for instance, threaded his way through the entire Montréal midfield in the seventh minute from centre-back. David Choinière, around the half-hour mark, danced into the middle in transition and outstripped his brother Mathieu to set up a chance for Woobens Pacius.
The typical Forge 4-3-3 that’s become characteristic of their side looked perfectly well-organized in the early stages as they went through phases of weathering pressure and applying some of their own, but Montréal’s back three of Joel Waterman, Rudy Camacho and Gabriele Corbo deserve credit for keeping Pacius and Tristan Borges isolated.
“We had more of the clear-cut opportunities in that half, and in our low block we’re very good at pushing them to the outsides and making sure we limit the space inside to [Matko] Miljevic and [Bryce] Duke,” Forge manager Bobby Smyrniotis said postmatch.
“Second half, it’s more or less started in the same way; it’s tough when you give up a goal in that manner … You see after that, the team is a little bit down for 10 minutes.”
Ultimately, though, Forge were left ruing that they didn’t make the most of their positive play early on.
In a strange way, it’s a sign of growth that Forge don’t leave this match content with moral victories or the fact that they played well against higher-level opposition for stretches. Having done so now several times, it’s a testament to the level and ambition of the club that they’re so disappointed in faltering.
“We’ve played a lot of games in our short history as a club,” Smyrniotis added. “I think you want to draw some good things but the biggest thing you do in these situations is you move on. Because whether we like it or not, both teams have to play on the weekend … You really have to take your focus elsewhere, where we need to be in the league.”
Now, Forge will be all-in on the CPL season, which is now their remaining path to getting back to the Concacaf Champions League.
Early second-half goal prompts irreversible momentum swing for Montréal
After Forge had put serious pressure on the Montréal backline in the final 10 minutes of the first half, the MLS side seemed to adjust coming out of the break.
Coach Hernán Losada made a savvy change in his side at halftime, taking off Matko Miljevic in place of Chinoso Offor, moving to a system with two central strikers in Offor and Sunusi Ibrahim.
“We found that we had a lot of possession but we couldn’t finish our actions,” Losada told Kristian Jack postmatch. “We needed an extra reference in the box, that’s why Offor came in. With two forwards it was about finishing our movement, finish with a cross, finish with a shot on goal. I needed to have something out of the possession we had and we got a little bit more verticality in the second half.”
Just about eight minutes into the second frame, Montréal took the lead it fortuitous fashion as what might have been a harmless strike from Ariel Lassiter took an unfortunate deflection off Alessandro Hojabrpour and rolled low into the net.
That one moment — as individual moments always can in matches — changed the landscape of this cup tie drastically. Montréal created another eight shots in the 20 minutes after their first goal and, were it not for a mix of poor finishing, last-ditch defending, and an absolutely miraculous goal-line save by Triston Henry, the hosts might’ve scored another two or three goals right away. Offor’s addition to the game didn’t quite lead to personal accolades for him — he had six shots, none of which he managed to finish — but he was exactly the “extra reference” in the box that Losada had been looking for to help split the Forge defenders.
By that point, the momentum Forge had begun to build in the first half had swung irreversibly in favour of Montréal. The MLS side’s advantage only compounded as the latter stages of the game progressed; Forge were forced to open up and get forward on the counter-attack, with more long balls coming from the back up to wingers.
Forge boss Bobby Smyrniotis made several changes shortly after conceding the first goal, bringing on Jordan Hamilton and Terran Campbell to perhaps play a little more direct as well as pushing Achinioti-Jönsson into midfield by taking Hojabrpour off for Garven Metusala. The Hamilton side did find six shots in the second half, with a couple chances via David Choinière and Rezart Rama likely their best looks, but Jonathan Sirois — a familiar foe — shut the door.
Montréal midfield keeps Forge at bay
Forge FC’s midfield trio of Kyle Bekker, Alessandro Hojabrpour and Aboubacar Sissoko has typically dominated in the Canadian Premier League as a well-drilled unit that commands space and progresses the ball confidently to target areas.
For the first time in a while, though, this game saw Forge yield some control of the middle. Montréal played with a double-pivot in the centre of Victor Wanyama and Mathieu Choinière, both of whom had been tasked with preventing Forge from building up through them, and funneling balls out wide to Bryce Duke, Zachary Brault-Guillard and Ariel Lassiter.
Wanyama, who has plenty of experience against good midfields (he’s gone up against names like Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and Pirlo in the UEFA Champions League), was dominant both on and off the ball. He barely put a pass wrong, spraying it all over the pitch — as his map below suggests:
Plus, Wanyama won the ball 10 times in areas all over the middle third of the pitch, fully preventing Forge from getting an attacking rhythm going when they tried to play out of the back.
Next to Wanyama, Choinière ultimately got the better of his brother David in this match (although David was Forge’s brightest attacking spark on Wednesday with his creativity and energy). Choinière had license to play further forward because of how well Wanyama was covering space defensively, so he ended up creating two chances with 23 passes in the final third.
The solidity of Montréal’s midfield is really what allowed them to get the ball out wide and create their attacking opportunities in the second half, with Brault-Guillard the main target for facilitating progress into the final third. The Canadian international played in a team-high nine crosses in a very strong performance from him on the front foot.
Ultimately, it’s an unfamiliar feeling for Forge to not be able to find a way through midfield, but Montréal had clearly done their homework and did well neutralizing a CPL opponent for whom they have a lot of respect.
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Victor Wanyama, CF Montréal
The former Tottenham midfielder was outstanding in this contest against a Forge midfield that’s typically very difficult to play against. Wanyama made 60 passes with 95.2 per cent accuracy, winning a game-high 10 duels with two tackles won.
CF Montréal will meet either Pacific FC or Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship final in early June, to be played in B.C. Forge, meanwhile, turn their attention back to the CPL, where they’ll travel to take on Atlético Ottawa on Saturday, May 27 (2 p.m. ET).
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