2022 CPL Regular Season — Match #37
Forge FC vs. Pacific FC
June 12, 2022 at 4:00 p.m. ET
Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario
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The last time these sides met at Tim Hortons Field, a trophy was handed out.
This time, when Pacific FC travel to play Forge FC, the Canadian Premier League championship won’t be on the line (as it was in the 2021 Final), but nonetheless there’s plenty at stake in a talent-heavy ComeOn! Match of the Week on Sunday.
Forge remain at home for their first league match in Hamilton since May 14, although they were certainly on the turf at Tim Hortons Field last Saturday, when they battled Toronto FC in the 2020 Canadian Championship Final and lost a heartbreaking penalty shootout. Now, their focus is solely on the CPL, with no other competitions left on the table, so Bobby Smyrniotis’ side will be desperate to continue picking up points and climbing the standings.
The Hamilton side have won two in a row in league play, their most recent contest being a comeback victory in Edmonton last Tuesday that ended 4-3. Prior to that, they dominated HFX Wanderers in Halifax en route to a 4-0 win. As it stands, Forge sit in fourth place in the standings with a 3-2-2 record and 11 points (level with fifth-place HFX but ahead on tiebreakers). That said, Forge have also played the fewest games in the CPL so far with just seven — one fewer than third-place Cavalry FC and three fewer than league-leaders Pacific. Forge also boast the best goal differential in the league at +6.
James Merriman’s Pacific remain atop the table after 10 games, with five wins, three draws, and two defeats. That said, the past few weeks haven’t quite matched the dominance they showed at other points earlier in the season; the Tridents are winless in three, and last week they lost 2-1 at Atlético Ottawa thanks to a very late winner by Zach Verhoven. With other teams starting to round into form, Pacific’s place at the head of the table is no longer as comfortable as it was at the start of May; Ottawa now sit just one point back of Pacific’s 18, with a game in hand as well.
Both sides will be without a couple of pieces on Sunday due to a variety of reasons; Pacific will have two players on international duty, with Gianni Dos Santos getting the call up to Cape Verde, and Kamron Habibullah joining up with Canada’s U-20 side, plus Manny Aparicio remains injured. Forge, meanwhile, are missing Kwasi Poku and Dino Bontis, who will also be away with the Canadian U-20s, plus a handful of defenders dealing with injury that remain unlikely to suit up, including Dom Samuel and Garven Metusala.
Contests between these teams have had an interesting balance, historically. Before the 2021 CPL Final, Pacific had never beaten Forge, in nine attempts. Since then, though, the Van Isle club have had the upper hand. They won the Final at Tim Hortons Field, and then they triumphed 2-1 in both sides’ first match of the 2022 season at Starlight Stadium back in April.
Now, Forge have designs on re-establishing their dominance, especially at home. Merriman and the Tridents, however, have other ideas.
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3 THINGS TO WATCH:
- Pacific look to improve away form in difficult territory: Pacific have played four times away from home this year, but they have just one win — a 1-0 victory over Atlético Ottawa, which they by no means dominated. They’re unbeaten at home, with all five of their victories coming at Starlight Stadium, but after hosting a lot of games to start the season they’ll need to improve their away form in order to keep pace at the top of the table. Six of their nine league matches in June and July are on the road, having started a three-game tour of Ontario last Sunday in Ottawa — they’ll play Forge this weekend before going to York United next Saturday. The Tridents have scored just two goals in away games this year (both of them against Ottawa, and both quite late in the second half), so they’ll definitely want to come out strong from the get-go in Hamilton. The trouble, of course, is that Forge have historically been very tough to beat at Tim Hortons Field — although Pacific were able to do it last year. “It’s really important that we take care of ourselves and do all the little things that we can control,” James Merriman said Saturday. “All the little things good professionals do to take care of themselves, make sure you’re able to perform in the match because it is demanding at times to travel. And also the mentality, it’s part of the league. It’s part of what we deal with to be in the Canadian Premier League and you have to have that mindset that they’re business trips, be a good professional and prepare well.”
- Forge midfield trio looks to continue gelling: The last two games, Forge have been able to roll out a three-man midfield of Kyle Bekker, Aboubacar Sissoko, and Alessandro Hojabrpour, to great success. In the match against Toronto FC, the trio was able to dominate the central channels against the likes of Michael Bradley and Alejandro Pozuelo, overloading the middle and forcing opposing midfielders to divide their attention. That particular part of the pitch will be important on Sunday as well; recently, especially since Manny Aparicio’s injury, Pacific have increasingly looked to play wide via fullbacks and wingers, but out of possession it’ll be incumbent upon their own midfield to try and prevent Forge from making progress through the middle. Jamar Dixon is very strong in that capacity, but he’ll need help; perhaps if Matthew Baldisimo is fit enough to take on more minutes, he might be the type of two-way player Pacific need in that area.
- Pacific attack to test Forge backline: Although they’ve taken a dip in form recently, Pacific still boast one of the most potent attacks in the entire CPL. Striker Alejandro Díaz has an early lead in the Golden Boot race with six goals, and Marco Bustos leads the league in assists with four. Josh Heard, usually playing on the left but more recently on the right, offers a direct attacking threat who can drive into the box with the ball. That front four remains extremely dangerous, especially to a Forge team who has a litany of top defenders — Daniel Krutzen, Dominic Samuel, Garven Metusala, and Johnny Grant — unavailable with injury. Bobby Smyrniotis has done well finding ways to cope with the absences, thanks in part to revelatory performances in defence from Rezart Rama and Malik Owolabi-Belewu, but this will be yet another difficult test at the back for Forge. Expect Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson to play a pivotal role in the centre of it all. “It’s a good thing for the depth of our squad to be versatile and try players in different positions,” said Pacific coach James Merriman. “Okay, maybe it hasn’t had the same fluidity that it did in those first few games but I also think that’s pretty normal… I think we’ve been able to try different things and it’s still early enough for us that we’ve been able to do that. Now we know who we have in our group and how we can try different things.”
Forge FC wins: 8 || Pacific FC wins: 2 || Draws: 1
April 10, 2022 – Pacific FC 2-1 Forge FC
“We know when teams play us they’re always going to put their best foot forward. We play some excellent football here at home on a bigger pitch than most in the CPL, which is a good thing. We just have to take advantage of the spaces.” — Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis
“Everyone knows we need to put in a little bit more, we need more. We need to push our levels, we need to push our intensity and our competitiveness. I’m looking forward to the game, the group is looking forward to the match. We always know it’s a good game against Forge as well, so we’re very focused on ourselves and our team performance tomorrow.” — Pacific FC head coach James Merriman