‘Our focus has shifted’: Forge aims to clinch CONCACAF League spot vs. Valour

TORONTO – In soccer, the next opportunity is never far away.

Disappointed at being knocked out of the Canadian Championship midweek by Cavalry FC, Forge FC turns their focus to sealing qualification for the 2019 CONCACAF League.

“The mood is good,” said head coach Bobby Smryniotis, now back in Hamilton. “The two games with (Cavalry) came down to some little details, that if different we’re off to the next round. No excuse, it’s football. You play the game and whatever comes out of it, you’ve got to live and die with.”

Having seen Dominique Malonga level controversially at the death from the penalty spot in the first leg, Forge took the lead early in the away leg through Kyle Bekker, only for Cavalry to respond before half-time from Malonga again and find the series decider through Sergio Camargo at the hour-mark.

“It was a frustrating game,” exhaled Tristan Borges on Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat. “You can’t really dwell on it too much, you just have to focus on the next game.”

That next game, at home against Valour FC on Saturday, is a big one.

In the three team mini-table to determine who will represent the Canadian Premier League in July against Antigua GFC, Forge holds a three-point lead over FC Edmonton and Valour FC having won both their matches, one against each, while the other two have split their two meetings.

Forge has a game left against each, meaning a single point on Saturday against Valour will seal qualification.

“We’ve put ourselves in a good position with the two games we’ve already played against Valour and Edmonton to give us six points,” Smryniotis said. “This is one we want to go out on the front foot with to give us the ability to play some continental football.

“You stay focused on every task that is put in front of you.”

This next challenge now takes centre-stage, but the next one is not far behind.

“Our focus has shifted,” Borges said. “Being able to qualify for CONCACAF is on our minds.

“We take each game the same mentality, no matter how big, the goal every game we enter is to win.”

Forge must do so without two key strikers, as Emery Welshman is at the Gold Cup with Guyana and Anthony Novak is out with a knee injury. On Tuesday, Borges, who leads the league with four goals, played as a false-nine. In the weeks ahead, the likes of Marcel Zajac, Jace Kotsopoulos, and Kadell Thomas may be asked to fill those absences.

“We’ve got the depth, we’ve got the guys to do it,” Smryniotis said. “But when you lose the guys that have been performing well it’s always a little bit of a challenge.”

And beyond CONCACAF qualification, lies the spring title.

Borges called the Valour match “a double header, in terms of we need it for two different things.”

Those same points will see them keep the pressure on Cavalry as the Spring season begins to wind to its conclusion. The Cavs hold a three-point lead in the standings with two games in hand. With Forge only having three games remaining, including a rematch against Cavalry on June 22, winning out is the only option.

“We’ve got to take everything one game at a time,” Smryniotis urged. “Our game against Cavalry, or Edmonton after that, is only as important as the game that comes before it because that’s what keeps us going.”

“We know we need to go maximum. We need to take care of Saturday first – that keeps us on pace, hoping they’re able to stumble somewhere along the road,” Smryniotis continued. “A good positive result on Saturday and when Sunday rolls around, we’ll put our concentration on the next one.

“We’ve got three left, the goal is maximum points. That’s how we’ll go about it, what we can do on our end. We can’t control what goes on with other teams and other results, but we can always look at ourselves.”

Though Borges doesn’t consider what has happened between Forge and Cavalry thus far a rivalry, with a juicy rematch on the horizon and a dramatic few weeks ahead, another chapter or two can be written.

June 22. Mark the date.

“That game is important for us to close the gap,” allowed Borges. “But the mentality we have is every game is important. Next game, if we don’t put the work in and come out with a result, then it creates a bigger gap.”

First, Forge wi ll have to get past Valour on Saturday (5:00 p.m. ET, on OneSoccer).