PREVIEW: Forge FC vs. Toronto FC (Leg 1) — 2024 TELUS Canadian Championship

2024 TELUS Canadian Championship — Semifinal (Leg 1)
Forge FC vs. Toronto FC
July 10, 2024 at 7 p.m. ET
Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario
Watch Live: & TELUS Ch. 980 // Tickets available here

Wednesday night has been circled on the Canadian soccer calendar for weeks now, as a hotly-anticipated TELUS Canadian Championship semifinal kicks off between Canadian Premier League side Forge FC and their local Major League Soccer foes, Toronto FC.

The CPL side aim to make use of their home field advantage, as they invite TFC down the QEW to Hamilton for this first leg of the tie.

It’s the second time these two sides have met in this competition, but memories of that previous clash weigh heavily in the minds of at least one of the teams. The 2020 Canadian Championship Final, played in June 2022 due to COVID-19, saw both sides fight tooth-and-nail for the Voyageurs’ Cup in a match that ended 1-1 over 90 minutes, before Toronto claimed the trophy in a penalty shootout.

That’s the closest Forge have gotten to lifting that cup, and it was an impressive day from the CPL side; Tristan Borges played hero with a long-distance 60th-minute equalizer just three minutes after Alejandro Pozuelo put TFC in front, although Borges had also smacked a penalty off the crossbar in the first half.

Since then, neither side has won the trophy. TFC, the Canadian Championship’s most successful team with eight titles, haven’t won it in a full-length tournament (that is, not the one-off 2020 final) since 2018. Last year, they went out in the quarter-finals to CF Montréal, and their last appearance in the final was a 2022 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Toronto have had an unusual road to this year’s semifinals, having only played semi-professional sides so far. They beat League1 Ontario’s Simcoe County Rovers in the preliminary round, and then knocked out Ligue1 Québec side CS Saint-Laurent over two legs in the quarter-finals.

Forge, meanwhile, have had perhaps a more arduous route, beating CPL derby rivals York United FC in the first match before a hard-fought clash with CF Montréal. The Hammers took a 1-1 draw from the home leg before outplaying the MLS side at Stade Saputo, even surviving an almost two-hour weather delay to hold on for a 3-2 aggregate win.

Other than the 2020 game, Forge have never been past the semifinal of this tournament, although they’ve been here three of the last four years. In both of their prior appearances at this stage, they were knocked out by Montréal, but they’ve now gotten over that hump and could therefore go into this one with a little more confidence.

Outside of this competition, neither side is quite in the form they would hope for heading into the semifinal. Toronto, ninth in MLS’s Eastern Conference with a 7-3-13 record, have lost six consecutive games and are currently on a nine-match winless run. Their most recent victory was their quarter-final triumph over CS Saint-Laurent, back on May 21.

TFC were in action down in Ohio over the weekend, losing 4-0 to the third-place Columbus Crew. However, they’re without some of their usual contributors; Jonathan Osorio and Richie Laryea remain with the Canadian men’s national team during their Copa América campaign, while a few other players like Alonso Coello and Tyrese Spicer are injury concerns.

On the other side, Forge currently find themselves fifth in the CPL table, although a 5-3-4 record and 18 points puts them just two back of second place with a game in hand. Their most recent contest was a roller coaster 3-3 draw at home with Vancouver FC, where they came back from a goal down twice and took a late lead, only for VFC to equalize in stoppage time.

However, Forge have scored the second-most goals in the CPL and have scored at least two in each of their last four games, as their attack continues to click along well. They’ll have one major absence for this game however, with fullback Daniel Parra suspended for card accumulation in the Canadian Championship, meaning they’ll need to adjust without one of their best players so far this year. Terran Campbell is the biggest remaining injury concern for Forge, who have adjusted well over the past six weeks without one of their first-choice strikers.

A fascinating tactical battle is expected on Wednesday between Forge manager Bobby Smyrniotis and Toronto gaffer John Herdman. There’s very little familiarity between these teams, considering how much has changed since they last met two years ago.

Of course, seven of Forge’s starters from the 2020 Final remain with the club, plus four from their bench that day. For TFC, only two — Kosi Thompson and Deandre Kerr — are still with the club, which at the time was coached by Bob Bradley.

Separated by 75 kilometres and several million dollars in budget, there’s no shortage of personal and local pride on the line for Hamilton and Toronto.

Toronto FC’s Kosi Thompson (L) battles with Tristan Borges of Forge FC in the 2020 Canadian Championship Final. (Photo: Martin Bazyl/Canada Soccer)

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


  • Forge more confident after prior success vs. MLS: In the lead-up to this semifinal, multiple Forge players have discussed how important it was for them as a group to finally defeat Major League Soccer opposition, as they did against CF Montréal. Advancing from that two-legged tie required a litany of different success from Forge; they survived the home leg without surrendering more than one away goal, and they dominated in attack for the first half of their away match. After the lengthy storm delay at halftime, Montréal recovered and fought back, but Forge proved they could win in another way too, defending excellently to hang onto their slim lead. Any and all of those situations could present themselves now against TFC (including weather concerns, with a storm in the forecast for Wednesday), so the experience will be invaluable for Forge. “It was an important thing after playing quite a few matches against [MLS] opponents, to get through one of these ties,” Bobby Smyrniotis said. “It’s something we hadn’t done in the five and a half years we’ve been around as a club, and that just helps going forward; every positive experience and every negative experience is supposed to help you in what you do next. That last series gives us a good frame of mind to be able to prepare.”


  • Struggling TFC hoping for resurgence in CanChamp: There’s a good deal of pressure on Toronto FC in this tie, due to both their current league form and recent history in this competition. They’ve long prized the Canadian Championship as their ticket into the Concacaf Champions Cup, which they have not competed in since 2021. So, don’t expect this to be a second-string, unmotivated TFC team on Wednesday. It’s likely that both of their highly-paid Italian stars, Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne, will play a role; the only big names that won’t be involved are Osorio and Laryea, who will still be with the Canada squad after Tuesday’s Copa América semifinal. TFC head coach John Herdman has spoken recently about how important this competition could be for his side getting its season back on track. He did acknowledge that his squad is a little thin right now with absences and injuries, and added that it’ll be a different consideration for his side playing on the Tim Hortons Field turf rather than grass, but insisted it’ll nonetheless be a very competitive contest. “You’re coming up against a Forge team that will have their plan,” Herdman told Forge FC reporter Steve Milton. “Their plan will be clear and they will be able to manage their environment and get from their environment what they need to achieve their plan.”


  • Personal ties add motivation for Forge: There’s certainly a local rivalry flair to this game between two teams so close geographically. Toronto and Hamilton is more of a budding rivalry in the soccer world, but there’s plenty of bad blood between the Argonauts and the Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League, and both clubs have massive ties to their local CFL team, playing in the same stadiums. It’s more personal than that for a few Forge players, though. Tristan Borges and Kwasi Poku both played in the Toronto FC academy as youngsters, and Kyle Bekker played for the club back in 2013 and 2014. No Forge player has stronger TFC ties, though, than Jordan Hamilton, who was in their academy from 2011 and played for the first team from 2014 to 2019. He won the Canadian Championship three times with Toronto. For him, this will be extra special; Hamilton wasn’t yet at Forge the last time they played TFC, so Wednesday will be his first time playing against his former club. Hamilton recently told he’s had his mind on this game for quite a while, and he’s hoping — whether he starts or comes off the bench — for a chance to put one in the net.


Forge FC: Kalongo; Duncan, Achinioti-Jönsson, Metusala, Owolabi-Belewu; Hojabrpour, Bekker; Choinière, Borges, Badibanga; Poku

Toronto FC: Johnson; O’Neill, Long, Gomis, Petretta; Franklin, Longstaff, Thompson; Marshall-Rutty, Owusu, Kerr


Forge FC wins: 0 || Toronto FC wins: 1 || Draws: 0

Last meeting:

June 4, 2022 —  Forge FC 1-1 Toronto FC (4-5 on pens.)


“We’re a club that in the past five years has won four championships. We don’t look at anyone else as a giant; we consider ourselves a big club. We think big in those aspects, so it’s not so much about the opponent. We know each opponent, doesn’t matter who, bring their challenges, and also give you opportunities, so it’s more about focusing on those things, and not so much on the exterior stuff of a CPL team playing a team from MLS and so on.” — Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis

In my mind, given how consistent Forge are as a team, how long they’ve been together, how long Bobby (Smyrniotis) has been with the players, they’re not an underdog when they come into the Canadian Championship. There’s no underdog when you go to Hamilton on a turf pitch, with their fan base who are solid. There’s no doubt that team has Canadian Championship experience, they’ve got Concacaf Champions Cup experience.  They’ve won back-to-back Canadian Premier League titles. This is a team that knows how to win. We don’t look at them as an underdog in any way, shape or form.” — Toronto FC head coach John Herdman