2021 CPL Playoffs — Final
Forge FC vs. Pacific FC
December 5, 2021 at 4:30 pm ET
Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario
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One hundred and fourteen Canadian Premier League matches, and they’ve all led to this one.
The 2021 CPL Final will officially close out the Canadian soccer calendar this Sunday, as defending champions Forge FC of Hamilton play host to a foe from Vancouver Island in Pacific FC. Forge, who won the first two CPL titles in 2019 and 2020, are keen to complete their three-peat and lift the North Star Shield at Tim Hortons Field for the first time, after doing so in Calgary and Charlottetown the past two times.
Pacific, meanwhile, would love to spoil the party and claim the trophy for themselves. No CPL team other than Forge has won the league yet, but the Tridents have designs on changing that this weekend.
The Final has landed in Hamilton thanks to Forge’s sparkling regular season record: With 16 wins, two draws, and 10 losses, they finished first in the league table, which guaranteed them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Coached by Bobby Smyrniotis, they advanced to the Final in convincing fashion two weeks ago, beating 905 Derby rivals York United 3-1 in their semi-final clash.
RELATED: 3 reasons why Forge FC will win the 2021 CPL Final || 3 reasons why Pacific FC will win the 2021 CPL Final
It’s been a remarkable season for Forge, who have found incredible success outside of CPL play as well. They went to the semi-finals of the Canadian Championship, losing a heartbreaking 11-round penalty shootout to MLS outfit CF Montréal. In the Concacaf League, they again went as far as the semi-finals, beating strong sides from El Salvador, Panama, and Costa Rica before bowing out just a few days ago on Wednesday in a nailbiting tie (2-2 on aggregate with away goals making the difference) against Honduran club Motagua.
Forge’s success has been an all-around team effort this year; Mo Babouli and Woobens Pacius (who only joined the club in late August) have led the way with seven CPL goals each, with quality in all areas of the field surrounding — from captain Kyle Bekker in the middle, to Kwame Awuah on the left side, to Tristan Borges in attack.
They’ve won the Shield twice, but never on home turf. For Smyrniotis and co., defending their title in front of the Barton St. Battalion might be a little extra special.
“If I said not I think I’d be lying, right?” Smyrniotis quipped on Saturday. “At the end of the day championships, trophies are won by players. They go out there and perform; we’re those guys in the background telling them to do this, that and so on. But all of that, the joy, is for the player. As a coach, as a backroom staff, we’d like to see that for those guys. We’ve won the championship last year in the middle of a pandemic, gone on the road after that, and really never had the opportunity to celebrate with our fans.”
Across the pitch from the reigning champs will be Pacific, who have enjoyed a strong season in their own right. They finished third in the league table with 13 wins, six draws, nine losses for 45 points, although they sat at the top of the standings for much of the campaign. Just like Forge, Pacific went to the semi-final of the Canadian Championship where they lost to an MLS team (for them, it was a 2-1 defeat at BMO Field against Toronto FC). Their road to that point was longer, though; they defeated another MLS side in the Vancouver Whitecaps before topping Cavalry FC in the quarter-final.
Pacific booked their ticket to the CPL Final in a thrilling 2-1 win over Cavalry FC, where they needed extra time to get it done. Their attack is led by young star Terran Campbell, whose 11 CPL goals this year put him third in the Golden Boot chase — one up on his teammate Alejandro Díaz. The Tridents have talent all over the park, from clever fullback Kadin Chung, to stalwart defender Lukas MacNaughton, to hard-working winger Josh Heard.
“You always think, as a young player, yeah I wanna play a final,” Kah said on Saturday. “But when you look back, how many players actually got to play a final? There’s not many… Just embrace it, because you don’t know when the next one will come.”
RELATED: Forge FC keeper Triston Henry on eyeing 3rd CPL title at home, Smryniotis’ influence: ‘He’s the Pep Guardiola of Canada’ || Pacific’s Campbell reflects on three years of progress before CPL Final: ‘Everyone’s just stepped it up’
These two sides have met three times over the course of the 2021 season, but Forge have taken the spoils in all three — a 3-0 and a 2-1 result back in the Winnipeg bubble over the summer, followed by a 2-1 home win at Tim Hortons Field in September. In fact, Forge have never lost to Pacific in nine matches all-time — and only split the points once.
History will go out the window on Sunday afternoon, though. All that matters is the 90 minutes ahead (plus extra time and penalties, if needed).
One of Forge or Pacific will wake up on Monday morning as CPL champions.
Make your match picks prior to kickoff at canpl.ca/predictor for a chance to win prizes, including the grand prize of a trip to the 2021 CPL Final! To learn more about ComeOn!, click here.
All CPL matches are available to stream on OneSoccer, or on TELUS Optik TV Channel 980.
3 THINGS TO WATCH:
- Midfield battle could turn the tide: These two teams have exceptional quality in the middle of the park. Pacific boasts a setup with Jamar Dixon anchoring things, Alessandro Hojabrpour connecting the dots, and Manny Aparicio creating scoring opportunities. They’ve also got players like Matthew Baldisimo or Ollie Bassett who can come in to add further spark to that group. Forge, meanwhile, have reigning Player of the Year Kyle Bekker at the centre of it all, with Swedish maestro Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson just behind him. Tristan Borges is likely to get the nod as a creative number 10 again, too. Plus, Elimane Cisse — deployed at right-back recently — could draw into the middle, as could Maxim Tissot. Both teams have so much quality in the middle that this game could well be won or lost based on which side can win that battle. The matchup between Aparicio and Bekker, in particular, could sway the occasion on its own, with both players among the league’s best at advancing the ball and picking out dangerous passes — as CanPL.ca’s Benedict Rhodes explained this week.
- Selection questions, injury concerns for both teams: As is often the case heading into a big match, there’s a lot for both coaches to consider when selecting the starting XI they believe will deliver them the victory. Pacific’s Pa-Modou Kah is unlikely to deviate from his preferred 4-3-3 setup, but the individual personnel might change: Lukas MacNaughton will draw in at centre-back after missing the semi-final due to suspension, but will his partner be Abdou Samake or Thomas Meilleur-Giguère? Jordan Haynes or Kunle Dada-Luke at fullback? Then, the bigger questions: will Marco Bustos be fit to make the bench? Pacific will also be without Alejandro Díaz up front unfortunately — Kah explained on Saturday that he’s dealing with an injury — so any boost to their attack would be welcome. Forge, meanwhile, will be mostly healthy and consistent, but the biggest question remains Daniel Krutzen: the centre-back didn’t travel midweek to Honduras with the team, and didn’t train for the club on Saturday; he’ll be a major absence at the back for Forge if unable to play.
RELATED: Beyond The Pitch: Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis || Beyond the Pitch: Pacific FC’s Pa-Modou Kah
- Rest vs. rhythm — who has the advantage? There are arguments for both sides of this. Pacific FC have had two weeks off since their semi-final match, which they’ve been able to use to focus fully on the CPL Final and make a plan for playing against one specific opponent. Forge, on the other hand, haven’t had that luxury; they’ve played two very intense contests against Honduran side Motagua in the Concacaf League semi-final, which concluded in Tegucigalpa on Wednesday night. So, the Hamilton side might be a little more fatigued, and they’ll enter the Final with less specific preparation time. However, they might have momentum and match rhythm on their side; previously during the season, Forge have very capably juggled competitions on a short turnaround — consider the 4-1 beating they gave to HFX Wanderers just three days after losing to CF Montreal in the Canadian Championship. The jury’s out on whether it’s better to rest and prepare, or to remain in a match rhythm ahead of a final.
Forge FC wins: 8 || Pacific FC wins: 0 || Draws: 1
September 25, 2021 – Forge FC 2-1 Pacific FC
“You don’t need a lot to motivate yourself to play in a final. That’s the one thing our players have, is experience playing in these high energy games… It’s always being humble, starting for a humble place — having respect for what the opponents do.” — Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis
“I feel like for the city of Hamilton, it means everything. The past two years, where we weren’t able to play in front of our home fans and lift the Shield in front of our home fans. Having the opportunity to do it here, it means the world to us, and we’re hungry.” — Forge FC defender Kwame Awuah
“I’m not a fan of statistics. Stats is what it is. History is meant to be rewritten.” — Pacific FC coach Pa-Modou Kah
“We’ve always been looked at kind of as the underdogs, and that’s okay. That’s where we started, from 2019 to where we’re at. We’ve got to stay focused and focus on what we can really do; Forge is gonna do what they do and we’ll just see where the chips fall.” — Pacific FC captain Jamar Dixon