Final Score: FC Edmonton 3-4 Forge FC
Goalscorers: Camara 12′, Hojabrpour 34 (OG), Coore 86′; Borges 24′, 61′, 82′ (Pen.), Bissainthe 63′ (OG)
Game of the 2022 season: 31
CPL match: 282
Match in a minute or less
Forge FC won their second straight league match on Tuesday, though it was far from a sure thing, as they came back from a goal down twice to beat FC Edmonton 4-3 at Clarke Stadium. The Eddies opened the scoring early thanks to Wesley Timoteo’s perfect cross to Mamadi Camara, but Tristan Borges equalized just 12 minutes later. Again, though, Edmonton went down the other end and took the lead, as Tobias Warschewski’s free kick caromed off Alessandro Hojabrpour and in for an own goal.
That was far from the end of the attacking deluge, though. After the Eddies went into halftime leading, it was Forge who came on stronger in the second half; Borges scored another around the hour mark, and just two minutes later the visitors took the lead thanks to a Terran Campbell attempt that ultimately goes down as an own goal charged to Bicou Bissainthe. Borges completed the hat-trick (the first in Forge’s history) with a penalty kick in the 82nd minute, and it turned out to be an important insurance marker, as Edmonton’s Kairo Coore got one back for the hosts in the 86th minute, but that would be the end of it as Forge claimed all three points.
Forge gets Sissoko into midfield as Rama shines at RB
When Forge first signed Aboubacar Sissoko this past off-season, he was familiar to CPL fans for his work as a dominant central midfielder for HFX Wanderers FC at the Island Games in 2020. This year, though, almost all of his minutes have been played at right-back, as head coach Bobby Smyrniotis has tasked the versatile 26-year-old with a different role in part due to necessity and injuries.
On Tuesday, though, Forge was able to deploy Sissoko more centrally, in front of Kyle Bekker and Alessandro Hojabrpour in midfield, thanks to the ability of the club’s most recent signing, Rezart Rama, to play right-back. The Albanian-Greek defender had appeared in both of Forge’s prior two games before this, and in both of them, he played as the right centre-back in a three-man defence.
This time, though, Rama showed his attacking chops playing on the right of a back four. He finished with a team-high 14 final third entries, completing an astounding 89 passes and taking 140 touches. With two tackles won and two interceptions, as well as seven duels won, he continued to contribute on the defensive side of the ball as well.
With Dominic Samuel, Garven Metusala, and Daniel Krutzen all injured, Smyrniotis took a bit of a risk moving to a back four with Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson and Malik Owolabi-Belewu as centre-backs, rather than the back three or five they’ve been comfortable in — especially with the likes of Rama so readily able to play centre-back in a three — but the decision certainly paid off for him on Tuesday.
Sissoko, playing in a central three that might actually be the strongest Forge are able to offer (until Krutzen returns and Achinioti-Jönsson can go back into midfield, that is), was likewise massively influential in this game. His pressure forced the turnover leading to Forge’s first goal, and he assisted the second goal with a very clever pass in behind to Borges — which he never could have made if he’d been playing at right-back.
“He’s one of those flex players that can move in different positions — in the midfield, at right-back, right wingback — and I think that’s very important to have. He’s shown his quality playing across there, maybe doesn’t get a lot of the credit he should because he’s playing in these different positions. But he gives a different dynamic piece to us in midfield, and that’s one thing we wanted to see today and I thought he was excellent at it, in his pressing areas, and moving the ball quickly and being vertical about it.”
Smyrniotis added: “(Sissoko)’s a midfielder by trade; we’ve seen him play from the beginning of the year, going back to the Champions League, at right-back, because of injuries, and now bringing Rama in — who’s excellent at playing a centre-back role, or can play the outside — it allows us to move (Sissoko) back into a natural midfield position. It just gives us a lot more options, a lot more different looks that we can give our team, that we can give opponents. I think we saw it a little bit in the Montréal game, but this is the first CPL game we’ve seen Ali (Hojabrpour), Abou (Sissoko), and (Kyle) Bekker in that midfield three.”
Eddies left disappointed, empty-handed despite strong start
As FC Edmonton continue to search for their first win of 2022, the fact that they led twice in this game makes the defeat particularly hard to swallow.
Entering Tuesday, they’d had a lead for a total of eight minutes of CPL action. In this match alone, the Eddies led for 39, and they took an advantage into halftime for the first time all season. Even aside from the scoreboard, they looked to be somewhat rejuvenated following a couple days’ extra rest since their last match; their 3-5-2 formation allowed them to get up the pitch a little more, and they defended higher up than they often have rather than fully sitting back in the early going.
“Guys are working their absolute backsides off, I think you can see that. We’re trying to maximize what we have at our disposal,” head coach Alan Koch said of his side postmatch. “It’s not fun losing every week; we’re supposed to lose, we know that, we’re not set up for success, but we’re gonna fight and keep fighting until the bitter end.”
Unfortunately for the Eddies, the wind came out of their sails significantly in the second half. The style of play didn’t change much — Edmonton only had about 25% possession in either half — but they began to sit back a little more rather than pressing, as Forge continued to pass the ball around looking for openings. At some point, when a team makes 551 passes, one of them is going to create a gap and find a breakthrough — which is what eventually happened in the lead-up to Forge’s second equalizer around the 61st minute.
Koch explained that he’d felt his team could take advantage of a tired Forge team in the early stages, with the visitors having played more recently and travelled to Edmonton the day before, but it was natural that the Eddies — a side with less experience and depth to call on than Forge — would have moments where the opponents broke through.
“It’s not easy for a team to fly out to Edmonton, come here and play, and already they’re flying out tonight,” Koch added. “That’s something we want to try and capitalize on, just like when we have to go travel teams try to capitalize on it. I think that’s part of why we came out of the gates quite well.”
Still, add this one to the ever-growing stack of learning experiences for this extremely young FC Edmonton side. Koch spoke pre-match about wanting to see his players approach every match like their “Champions League final” — which his players apparently took to heart.
“Forge is arguably one of the best teams in the league coming here,” said Kairo Coore, not long after scoring his first professional goal for FCE. “We went into this as if it was like our Champions League final; our goal going in was three points and you could see the first 45 minutes we were hungry for those three points. But it came down to moments, and unfortunately, those moments cost us three points. Going forward it’s something that the boys can use to go on to the next game, and the next game, and grow because we’re a young team so every single game we experience is just growth.”
It wasn’t to be for Edmonton on Tuesday, but once again they proved that they will not be an easy out for any opponent — especially not at home.
Forge rewarded for sticking to game plan despite going down
This match had the potential to get extremely frustrating for Forge at one point. They fell behind early, and then just moments later they saw a chance of their own denied by a miraculous Andreas Vaikla save. Even when they did score, it wasn’t long before they found themselves trailing once again.
All that, despite having three-quarters of possession and creating a handful of very good opportunities to get into the attacking third. In situations like that, some teams often choose to adjust, or begin forcing things or panicking as things don’t fall their way.
Not Forge, though; to head coach Bobby Smyrniotis, the number one priority, even when falling behind, is to remain focused on the plan set out at the beginning of the match.
“It’s kind of a bizarre game,” he said postgame. “If you look at the game, we were in control probably from the fifth minute on, and you’re down, you’re back, you’re down, and all that happens in the game. It’s something we talk about in training and during our preparation for the season, we have to be ready for these moments but the most important thing is you have to stick to your game plan.”
So, Forge continued to press on; they didn’t adjust much, sticking with their new-look back four and midfield trio. Early in the second half, Smyrniotis made a couple of changes to bring on Kwasi Poku and Terran Campbell, but those position-for-position swaps with Ashtone Morgan and Emery Welshman were by no means a massive tactical change. Rather, they allowed Forge to continue in similar tactics with fresher legs (not to mention giving a little extra rest to Morgan and Welshman).
Less than ten minutes after that change, Forge had scored twice — with both the players they brought on involved in a goal.
“I think this was a perfect game to show what we’re capable of,” Tristan Borges told reporters. “Obviously we’re not where we want to be in the standings, whether we have a couple of games in hand or not, we haven’t really played our best football yet. We’ve had a lot of great chances, but there’s been games where we’ve had a lot of slips defensively, or offensively we just haven’t put the ball in the back of the net. I think this game, the way it went, it was a great game for us to go down and be able to fight back.”
Now, Forge has moved way up the table into a tie for third place with 11 points. Smyrniotis had said that this game was an important one to him with regard to getting his side back on track in league play, but he did admit that he needed to ensure his side was focused on this game with Saturday’s 2020 Canadian Championship Final against Toronto FC surely in the back of mind.
“This week has been a bit of an interesting week for us,” Smyrniotis said. “We’re playing this game here that’s a very important game for me and the team, but there’s a lot of buzz, a lot of things going on, a lot of interviews ahead of Saturday’s game, and this one was a very tricky one for the players. So the one thing I talked to them about is just that if something doesn’t go well, just stick to the game plan, stick to football, because that’s what’s gonna get us out of this.”
The Hamilton side stuck to their plan in Edmonton, and eventually, they were rewarded for it.
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Tristan Borges, Forge FC
The third hat-trick in CPL history (and first-ever for Forge) naturally secures this honour for Borges. He created a further three chances on top of the three he scored, and he won the penalty that was ultimately the winning goal on a breakout night for the young star.
Forge’s attention now turns back to the Canadian Championship (the 2020 edition, that is), as they host Toronto FC this Saturday, June 4 with a chance to hoist the Voyageurs’ Cup (7 p.m. ET). In league play, their next contest will be Sunday, June 12 when they host Pacific FC at Tim Hortons Field (4 p.m. ET). FC Edmonton, meanwhile, will be back up on Sunday, June 5, when they go to Winnipeg to play Valour FC in the ComeOn! Match of the Week (4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT).
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