Final Score: Forge FC 1-0 HFX Wanderers
Goalscorers: Poku 8′
Game of the 2022 season: 111
CPL match: 361
Match in a minute or less
Forge put a bow on their 2022 CPL regular season on Sunday, as they picked up a 1-0 win over the Halifax Wanderers at Tim Hortons Field to finish second in the table, setting up a two-legged semi-final date with third-place Cavalry starting next weekend.
Thanks to an early Kwasi Poku goal, as the youngster grabbed a well-taken finish outside of the box to put his team up by one, Forge did what they needed to do the rest of the way in order to grab a result.
Paced by some big saves from Triston Henry in the second half, including one on Sam Salter that looked goalbound, Forge also ensured that they’d also have home-field advantage in the second leg of that semi-final tie, while also increasing their odds of potentially hosting a final, should they make it that far.
Forge takes care of business in final pre-playoff tune-up:
With their spot in the 2022 CPL playoffs already assured, this game was all about getting ready for that experience for Forge.
Both in terms of assuring the best possible seed for the playoffs, as well as making sure that no players picked up suspensions or injuries, that had to be the goal for Forge as they got set to take on a Wanderers team already out of the race.
As a result, there’s a lot to like about this win if you’re Forge.
It might not have been the sort of dominant home victory that Forge is capable of, but in the end, a 1-0 win was enough to ensure that they finished second in the CPL table, allowing them to host the second leg of their semi-final.
Plus, more importantly, they appeared to get out with no injuries or suspension worries, which is crucial with the playoffs already set to kick off in just under a week, leaving little time to recover from such losses.
Despite rotating their squad a fair bit for the second game in a row, Forge was overall pretty comfortable in this game, doing well to come out to a strong start, before seeing things over the line from there.
Especially comfortable in possession, which really helped them set the tempo of the game after the goal, they ensured that the game wouldn’t turn into the sort of track meet or bloodbath that could’ve been taxing on their players.
Therefore, while the game might not have been a great taste of the sort of intensity that they’ll face when they play Cavalry, a fixture that is always played physically and at breakneck speed, Forge was content with things playing out that way for this match.
To be fair, it was also quite unusual to see Forge just generate five shots at home, for a total of 0.42 Expected Goals (xG), while contesting only 82 duels and making 14 tackles, showing how much they strayed from their usual game plan.
Yet, with three points in their pockets, that second-leg playoff home game assured, and a squad that is both rested and ready for the postseason, that’s everything that they needed out of this weekend, even if it wasn’t what many were used to seeing from them.
“Pretty accurate (assessment),” Forge’s head coach, Bobby Smyrnitois, said when asked if this game went to plan for his staff. “You want three points, you want to make sure you don’t have any issues with players not being available for next week through suspensions or injuries, so I think it was good from there.”
“Plus, we also wanted to work on a few things tactically, we want to see things on the pitch that we haven’t seen lately. So when you can combine all of that, this is positive for us, we got what we wanted from it, and it gives us everything we need to move forward and prepare for next Saturday.”
Young Wanderers side shows good growth once again:
Continuing a theme from the last few weeks, the Wanderers came into this game with a bit of a youthful exuberance about them. Despite being out of the playoff race, they came out, played hard and gave a good battle to Forge, making them sweat about their victory right until the very end.
Yet, that’s been a common theme with the Wanderers as of late, as while they’ve maybe not gotten the results that they’ve craved, they’ve put together some excellent performances in recent matches, doing well to grow as a team.
That can all be traced back to one change, however – the insertion of more young players into their lineup.
This game was no exception, as the average age of their starting eleven was just over 23 years of age, which is very young for professional soccer.
Despite that, these young Wanderers showed good poise in key moments, doing well to recover from an early Forge storm that saw them grab the lead. A moment that could’ve been quite fatal for the Wanderers’, especially given that they’re already out of playoff contention, they instead kept their heads up and went after it.
In fact, they did everything but score in their last 70 minutes of play, as none of their eight shots (0.64 xG) found the goal, with some great saves from Triston Henry and some strong defensive interventions from Forge proving to be the difference on the day.
Plus, they held strong defensively despite the early breach, doing well to make things comfortable for the 17-year-old Adisa De Rosario, who was making his first start in the CPL in this one, which considering the defence in front of him wasn’t much older than he was, is also impressive to see that whole unit allow just the one goal.
Therefore, even if this game didn’t mean that much for Halifax, especially against a Forge team whose mind might’ve been elsewhere, it was another strong building block for them to use as they turn their focus toward 2023.
Having built up a strong core of young players, many of whom performed quite well over the past month, that could be the sort of internal improvement they’ll want to see as they get set for next season.
Just seeing how much the likes of Christian Campagna, Mo Omar and Ryan Robinson have improved in recent weeks, for example, which they further showed with strong performances in this game, shows what sort of potential lies within this squad.
Of course, more than just strong internal improvement will be required of the Wanderers if they want to compete next year, as they’ll look to make a few more signings to their group, but internal growth can only help, and in some cases could be the difference between them making it or missing out.
“There’s a huge learning curve in training every day, having to come to work every day and be on top of your game,” Wanderers’ head coach Stephen Hart said of his young group afterwards. “That’s not easy, and I think they’ll be better for it the following year.”
“There are a couple of young players that showed that they have something in them, they have that hunger, they want to learn, they’re not afraid to play, and those things are important, because you can’t coach enthusiasm, and some of them definitely have it.”
Because of that, you can only be encouraged by this latest run, as it provided a good glimpse into the future, one that Halifax will hope is quite prosperous for them, at least if this latest run is to mean anything.
“Yeah, you see around the league, a lot of younger guys definitely stand up and help their teams,” Wanderers midfielder, Andre Rampersad, noted afterwards. “We have a lot of young players, so I always tell them, in the world of football, young players run the show.”
“So looking towards 2023, we definitely have to build on that,” he added. “This year a lot of these guys gained good experience, and will definitely be back and be stronger next year.”
Kwasi Poku stands out for Forge despite crowded midfield battle:
It was quite the battle of wits in midfield in this game – on Halifax’s side, you had Andre Rampersad, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé and Pierre Lamothe, while on Forge’s side you had Kyle Bekker and Alessandro Hojabrpour, meaning that some of the top midfielders in the league were out on the pitch to begin this game.
You throw in Forge’s Aboubacar Sissoko, who was playing full back, as well as Halifax’s Mo Omar, who was playing at centre back, and that list is even more impressive, with both of those names also sometimes slotting into the middle to add numbers.
“It’s always a midfield battle between us two,” Rampersad said. “And I think in the end, when you look at it, it’s who comes out the toughest who usually wins.”
Yet, while that group of seven players were all influential in this game, as many have to come to expect from them, it was a new face in midfield that ended up stealing the show on the day – Forge’s Kwasi Poku.
The 19-year-old, who has mostly deputized at left back for Forge this season, got an opportunity to play in midfield for this game, a position he came up playing in his youth days.
A chance to see how he’d fare there against tough opposition, it was a good test for the youngster, as Forge wanted to see if they had a potential ace up their sleeve to consider for the playoffs, having experimented with some other names in the middle throughout this year.
The good news for Forge? Poku passed this test with flying colours, looking anything but out of place in the middle of the park, first with his opening goal, his first as a professional, before otherwise putting a calm showing in possession the rest of the way.
Along with his good work rate defensively, a positive byproduct of his time at full back, it allowed him to have a strong impact on both sides of the ball, which was crucial for maintaining Forge’s lead.
“I felt like I held my own,” Poku said afterwards. “I felt like it was a good test to show I can play that position against some of the best midfielders in the league.”
“It’s a great feeling,” he added. “I feel like I’ve been training well and I feel like Bobby saw that in me, and he and the coaching staff had faith in me, and they gave me my opportunity today, and I feel like I took it.”
Because of that, it could provide a bit of a different look for Forge to have in the postseason. Knowing that he can come in and do a job going box-to-box, that could prove to be useful in what is expected to be a 180-minute sprint of a tie against Cavalry.
A playoff tie that will wear down players, having as many aces up the sleeve as possible is always good to have, and in terms of deploying Poku as a midfielder, Forge now has another to look to, if needed.
“He is a player who shows very good qualities in training,” Smyrniotis said of Poku. “He’s a young guy, one who has got a lot of different qualities, and we’ll be able to see him in the future play in different areas on the pitch.”
“This was a game where we thought that hey, let’s change our shape up a little bit, see a few new things that maybe we might want to use or look at ahead of the playoffs.”
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Kwasi Poku, Forge FC
As mentioned, Poku had a good showing in midfield in this game, helping Forge control both sides of the ball. That was reflected in the stats, too, as he finished with 38 touches, 22 out of 25 passes completed (88%), five passes into the final third, one clearance, two interceptions and eight recoveries. Along with his goal, that’s not a bad showing at all from the 19-year-old.
Forge FC will now travel to Calgary to take on Cavalry FC in the first leg of their semi-final tie next weekend at ATCO Field (time TBD), while the Wanderers will head home, with their 2022 campaign now over.
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