PREVIEW: CF Montréal vs. Forge FC — 2023 Canadian Championship

2023 Canadian Championship — Semifinal
CF Montréal vs. Forge FC
May 24, 2023 at 7 p.m. ET
Stade Saputo in Montréal, Québec
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Encore une fois.

For the third time in three years, Forge FC will play Major League Soccer club CF Montréal this week in the Canadian Championship — this time, with a spot in the Final on the line.

This marquee semifinal clash features the defending Canadian Premier League champions against a foe that has repeatedly foiled them. Forge first met Montréal at Tim Hortons Field in the 2021 semifinal, when a hard-fought 0-0 draw turned into an extraordinary 11-round penalty shootout that only finished when goalkeeper Triston Henry couldn’t bury his spot kick after saving two previously.

The two sides met again in 2022, as Forge visited Stade Saputo for the first time for a quarter-final clash. That encounter wasn’t quite as close; Montréal battered the CPL outfit 3-0 with a hat trick from forward Sunusi Ibrahim. Coach Bobby Smyrniotis called the opening 45 minutes of that match “the worst half of football” his side had ever played, leaving them in a 2-0 hole at halftime from which they could not climb out.

RELATED: Tactical Blueprint: How Forge FC continue to evolve game-by-game in 2023

In the third meeting, Forge are desperate to at last get over that hump. The Hamilton club continue to harbour lofty ambitions, keen on being the first CPL team to lift the Voyageurs’ Cup. They nearly did last year, when they fell to Toronto FC on penalties in the rescheduled 2020 Canadian Championship Final, but that silverware continues to elude them — as it does the rest of the league so far.

Forge come into this tie in good form, still undefeated in league play with three wins and three draws. They were held to a 0-0 stalemate by Vancouver FC on Friday night, but they might’ve scraped all three points had they finished one of their 18 shots. Nonetheless, they sit first place in the Canadian Premier League, looking to capture yet another championship at the end of the season.

First, though, the cup journey continues. Forge defeated PLSQ side FC Laval and fellow 2022 CPL finalists Atlético Ottawa (on penalties) to advance to this semifinal, which is the first away game they’ll play in the tournament this year.

CF Montréal, meanwhile, progressed to the semis first by defeating League1 Ontario’s Vaughan Azzurri, and then by taking down rivals Toronto FC in the quarter-final. The club, playing its first season under head coach Hernán Losada, is hoping to return to the final after losing to TFC in the semis last season.

In MLS play, Montréal have cooled off recently after a four-game winning streak. They’ve lost their last two games, including a 2-1 result at New York Red Bulls on Saturday. They sit 13th in the Eastern Conference, with a 5-0-8 record so far — although they’re 4-0-1 at home.

The winner of this contest will play for the Voyageurs’ Cup in British Columbia, with either Pacific FC or the Vancouver Whitecaps set to host the final.

It’s always special when a CPL side plays an MLS team, and Forge would love to be the first to knock Montréal out of this competition after they, not to mention York United and Halifax Wanderers, have tried and failed in the past. The odds are certainly stacked against them as always — Montréal’s Victor Wanyama is paid more than the CPL salary cap for an entire team — but no CPL side is better prepared for the challenge than the three-time champions.

“Here we are, two [CPL] teams again in the semis,” Smyrniotis told reporters on Tuesday.

“It’s just going to be a regular thing as we go forward, we get past the idea of being a new league and new teams and being more established. I think that’s what we are, we’re more established in our markets, we’re more established as a product at least for us. You look at Pacific playing in Concacaf over this years — we’re established in winning big games. I think that narrative is great and it’ll slowly go away in a good sense, where it becomes normal that a team from the CPL is competing for the Canadian Championship on a year-by-year basis.”

Is this the year Forge clear another hurdle, and knock down an MLS team for the first time? They’ll certainly believe so.

Brothers David and Mathieu Choinière of Forge FC and CF Montréal, respectively. (Photo: Canada Soccer by Marc-André Donato)

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  • Forge focused on finishing: In Friday night’s scoreless draw with Vancouver — Forge’s first ever at Tim Hortons Field — the Hamilton club did more than enough in the build-up to score several goals and win the game, but they couldn’t seem to put the ball in the goal. With 70.9 per cent possession, 18 shots, and 1.79 expected goals, they could well have taken all three points, but just three of their shots were on target and, obviously, none found the net. Against a higher-level MLS side, Forge are unlikely to have as many opportunities. So, a key message in training this week for Bobby Smyrniotis will be that Forge can’t afford to be wasteful with their chances; they may only get a couple, so they must make them count. “You just need to be focused on doing the right things,” Smyrniotis said Tuesday. “Games like Friday are usually an anomaly, the ball goes in and games finish up, but that’s football. You move on from it. The most important thing is you create chances.”


  • Montréal confident in Stade Saputo fortress: Although it hasn’t been an ideal start to life under Hernán Losada, with CF Montréal currently outside the MLS playoff picture, they have certainly enjoyed their football at home. Their 4-0-1 record at Stade Saputo gives them the third-highest home points per game in the Eastern Conference at 2.67, with wins in their last three. There are plenty of players in the Montréal squad who can cause problems for Forge, especially playing between the lines as they did in last year’s matchup; Mathieu Choinière has been a revelation for the club as its midfield engine alongside Victor Wanyama, and Honduran forward Romell Quioto is a menace when he gets in behind — just ask the Canadian men’s national team. Plus, Forge are likely to be up against former Valour FC goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois, who’s won five out of six games against the Hamilton club with four clean sheets.


  • Connections abound for Forge Québécois contingent: As it has been in previous meetings between Forge and Montréal, a story for this contest is how many members of Forge’s squad have roots in the Montréal area and will be returning home for this game. Most notable is David Choinière, who played five games for the MLS side before coming to Forge but will now again face off against his brother Mathieu, who’s been a star in midfield for CF Montréal this year. Kyle Bekker played 21 MLS games for the club as well; Woobens Pacius and Garven Metusala also played in the team’s academy as teenagers, and Aboubacar Sissoko lived in Montréal from age 11. There will be a healthy contingent of friends and family supporting Forge at Stade Saputo, where the Hamilton club would love to produce a memorable upset.


CF Montréal wins: 1 || Forge wins: 0 || Draws: 1

Previous match:

May 26, 2022 — CF Montréal 3-0 Forge FC


“Things are quite different in our team, not so much personnel but in how much further forward we are [than last year]. Things are a lot different in what Montréal looks like compared to 2022 with a different playing style. I think you put all that behind you; you usually look at the past as your guiding light in important matches of what your performance can be, and for the most part our performances have been very good. That’s the same thing we need tomorrow.” — Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis