PREVIEW: Forge FC vs. CF Montréal — 2021 Canadian Championship

2021 Canadian Championship — Semifinal
HFX Wanderers vs. CF Montréal
October 26, 2021 at 7:30 pm ET
Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario
Watch Live: // Tickets available here

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The Canadian Premier League champions will host a Major League Soccer club for the first time in history this week, as Forge FC take on CF Montréal at Tim Hortons Field on Wednesday evening in the first of this year’s Canadian Championship semifinals.

With a spot in the final on the line, both teams will have briefly shifted their focus away from their heated league campaigns. Montréal are hoping to (technically) retain the Voyageurs Cup, having won it over Toronto FC in 2019, the last time the trophy was awarded. Forge, meanwhile, want nothing more than to become the first non-MLS side to appear in the final — following which they would quite like to win the whole thing.

Forge find themselves currently juggling three competitions in an incredibly busy schedule. They’re still in the middle of a two-legged quarterfinal tie in the Concacaf League, which began last week with a trip to Costa Rica where they fell 3-1 to Santos de Guápiles. Over the weekend, they turned their attention briefly back to the CPL for a visit to Nova Scotia, where they drew 0-0 with HFX Wanderers FC to add another point on their journey to the playoffs. In the league table, Forge currently sit third, three points back of the top spot with two games in hand and five total left to play.

RELATED: ‘Worth the work’: Choinère brothers David & Mat to clash in Forge-Montreal CanChamp semis

Bobby Smyrniotis’ side got to this semifinal stage by defeating fellow CPLers Valour FC by a 2-1 scoreline in mid-September, thanks to goals by David Choinière and Woobens Pacius; by virtue of winning the CPL championship last year, Forge received a bye to the quarterfinal round.

This Forge side, led by captain Kyle Bekker alongside an extremely deep cast of attackers, will be looking to put pressure on Montréal at home in front of the Barton Street Battalion. They’ve never played an MLS side before, but they have beaten teams in the Concacaf League (Independiente and Tauro FC) who have experience defeating MLS opposition.

“It doesn’t matter what league you’re playing in or what you’re doing, we’re all kicking a ball,” Smyrniotis said on Tuesday. “One team towards one goal, one team towards the other. I know that’s a simple way of putting it, but that’s a little bit of my model with the club. With Montréal, they’re a quality squad, but we have our DNA as a team, we have our beliefs. We’re confident in the group of players and our staff, but we don’t overestimate or underestimate any opponent.”

Making their first trip to Hamilton will be Wilfried Nancy’s CF Montréal. Like Forge, they’re in the thick of an intense playoff race: as it stands, Montréal sit tied with both Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls for the seventh and final playoff spot in MLS’s Eastern Conference, with three games remaining. Their hopes took a bit of a blow over the weekend, when they conceded a late equalizer at BMO Field against Toronto FC to drop two points against their rivals.

Montréal, like Forge, entered this year’s Canadian Championship in the quarterfinals, where they met HFX Wanderers in Halifax. The CPL outfit put up a very good fight, and it looked like they would go to penalty kicks with the match tied 1-1 on the brink of stoppage time, but a pair of goals from Ballou Tabla in the 89th and 92nd minutes put HFX through to the semifinal.

This Montréal side, coached by Nancy in his first year at the helm after Thierry Henry’s departure, has been a bit of a surprise in MLS this year, after finishing ninth last season and undergoing a lot of player turnover in the offseason. They have lots of attacking talent with players like Djordje Mihailovic (second in MLS with 15 assists), as well as some Canadian national team experience in veterans like Samuel Piette and Kamal Miller. They’re likely to be missing a few of their more high-profile players due to injury, with Victor Wanyama in particular a probably scratch, but they have plenty of ways to cause trouble for Forge.

Both teams will be extremely motivated on Wednesday, with silverware very nearly within reach. Can Forge make history once again?

All CPL and Canadian Championship matches are available to stream on OneSoccer, or on TELUS Optik TV Channel 980. 


  • Connections abound between sides: Although this is the first time these sides have met, not all the players will be unfamiliar with each other. For one thing, this matchup will feature a battle of brothers: Forge’s David Choinière, who came to the club from Montréal (then known as the Impact), will play against his younger brother Mathieu. Forge actually have a handful of players with links to Montréal: Kyle Bekker, Maxim Tissot, and Omar Browne all used to play for the club, and Jonathan Grant, Woobens Pacius, and Garven Metusala all spent time with the club’s youth system (the latter two being natives of the Montréal area). Montréal’s squad boasts two former CPL players in goalkeeper James Pantemis and defender Joel Waterman — the latter being all too familiar with Tim Hortons Field, having been sent off there in the 2019 CPL Final while playing for Cavalry FC. Kamal Miller, as well, will be very familiar with some of Forge’s squad; he will have played against a lot of the Sigma FC alumni during his time in League1 Ontario, and he was at Syracuse University at the same time as Chris Nanco — plus a handful of former teammates from Canadian youth national team camps. “There’s a lot of guys who I’m close with on that team who I’ve never played against before, so it’s going to be interesting to line up against them,” Miller told reporters on Monday. “We’re expecting from them a very strong game, they’re on a good run right now beating a lot of teams in Concacaf and in their domestic league so they’re going to be ready. They’re in good form and the game’s going to mean a lot to them.”
  • Montréal doing their research: CF Montréal ultimately got past HFX Wanderers by a comfortable two-goal margin in the quarterfinal, but the game itself was not comfortable for them. That was an intense contest at Wanderers Grounds that certainly showed the MLS outfit that CPL sides can cause problems for them. This time, playing against a CPL side that has been consistently stronger than the Wanderers this year, Montréal will be taking extra caution and doing all the required homework on Forge. With the playoff race so tight in MLS, they might have been tempted to keep an eye on Saturday’s pivotal league match against the Red Bulls, but they can’t afford to do so against the CPL champs. “It’s a game we have to focus on 100%, especially a team like Forge who plays in the Canadian Premier League, who I’ve read about,” Montréal’s Djordje Mihailovic told the media. “They’re doing really well in the season and they’re a team that’s going to come out playing at home, a team that’s going to come out with all their supporters and wanting to kill us for 90 minutes because that’s just how it is with these types of competitions but in order to get over that we have to put all our focus in that game.”
  • Forge to stay true to themselves: These one-off cup matches where one team is from a nominally lower level than the other can be fascinating tactically; sometimes, the underdog side will choose to shelter itself and park the bus, looking for a surprise goal on the counter-attack (think Sheriff Tiraspol versus Real Madrid recently). That, however, is unlikely to be the case in this match. Forge have faced many a game in the Concacaf League where they’ve been underdogs against more established sides in that competition, but they’ve never played negative defensive football against them. Forge have been consistent with their style of play no matter who the opposition, looking to establish possession and play positive attacking football. Recently, Bobby Smyrniotis praised the Canadian national team for their bravery in doing that very same thing against Mexico at Estadio Azteca; this game is on quite a different scale to that, but nonetheless, expect Forge to come out strong and try to play their regular attacking game against Montréal.


First meeting between these teams.


“Everyone knows that after 90 minutes, there’s just one that moves on. I think that’s the incentive that gives us a very good feeling going into this match, and that we’ve been doing it this year playing in Concacaf; they’re emotional matches, they take a lot out of the players, so we’re prepared in that aspect.” — Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis

“This is a good team. They have a very clear way to play defensively and offensively, they have good players. Doesn’t mean that Halifax didn’t want to play or didn’t have good players, but Forge, what I’ve seen so far, it’s an interesting team… We forget about the fact we’re playing a CPL team, we’re playing a team that wants to go to the final.” — CF Montréal coach Wilfried Nancy