2021 CPL regular season (The Kickoff) — Match #3
Forge FC vs. Valour FC
June 27, 2021 at 2:00 pm ET/ 1:00 pm CT
IG Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca
The hometown team against the two-time Canadian Premier League champs.
Valour FC and Forge FC face off in the third installment of an opening weekend quadruple-header at The Kickoff in Winnipeg on Sunday. Their most recent matchup came last year during the Island Games where the two sides played a 2-2 draw — the first point Rob Gale’s group has taken from the Hammers in six meetings.
Forge looks a slightly different squad from the one who were crowned in 2020 with key subtractions such as David Edgar — now serving as an assistant coach — and Anthony Novak, who headed west to join Cavalry. To help fill the voids, Dejan Jakovic joins from LAFC, bringing with him an abundance of professional experience while a flurry of intriguing options also join the attack headlined by former Montreal Impact forward Omar Browne and 2019 Player of the Year Tristan Borges, returning on loan from Belgium.
With both the shortest preseason and shortest offseason (thanks to their run in Concacaf league play) of any CPL team, coach Bobby Smyrniotis recognizes the physical challenges Forge will face to start the year. Modifications in the early going may be required but Smyrniotis is ensuring his group is ready to go from an organizational standpoint for their opener, in an effort to manage the fitness hurdles they’ll have to clear as they find their feet in Winnipeg.
“We have to be smart about how we do things,” Smyrniotis told reporters on Friday. “If we think that a team may be a little bit more physically prepared than us, then tactically we have to be very much well prepared in what we’re going to do on the field and I think that’s the one biggest thing we’ve focused on.”
For Valour, there’s been a little more structure to the buildup of the season as the team will play host to the rest of the league at IG Field. The so-called ‘home field advantage’ may not be as big a factor as some anticipated however, as the Manitoba-based outfit has rotated training locations and is confined to a hotel just like the other seven clubs. While Gale looks forward to the test, he’s aware Sunday’s version of the champions might not see them at top speed given the circumstances.
“If I’m truly honest, with just the shortened preseason and everything that’s gone on, it’s been difficult for both teams to get going,” Gale said in his pre-match press conference. “There’s a lot of a different feel to it but it’ll be a good matchup.”
Although Gale has done well to bring in reinforcements, largely through means of loan spells, the narrative surrounding Forge’s preparation for the season (or lack thereof) and the ensuing storylines heading into the weekend may be slightly exaggerated in the eyes of the Valour coach.
“We’ll see what turns up (for Forge) on Sunday… we can only play the two times defending champs, so we’ll see how we do.”
3 THINGS TO WATCH
- Forge’s match fitness: They might be the repeat reigning champions but the Hammers have had little time to prep for their run at a third straight CPL title — their first full training session came in the bubble on IG Field. Bobby Smyrniotis has also brought in plenty of reinforcements for his attacking group which could prove dangerous across the full season but an initial transition period for the Forge attack is a real possibility given just how many fresh faces are up front. With the advantages of home field and more preseason reps to lean on, Rob Gale and Valour could see this match as an opportunity to sneak by a sleeping giant.
- Valour could lean on loanees again: Gale has done as good a job as any CPL coach in selling his side as an opportunity for young players to develop during a loan spell — for proof of this, look no further than the performances of James Pantemis and Julian Dunn during the Island Games. With the aforementioned pair back with their parent MLS clubs, Valour have once again dipped into the loan department for 2021 in acquiring Jonathan Sirois (CF Montreal), Sean Rea (CF Montreal), Jared Ulloa (Sporting Cristal), and Rodrigo Reyes (Chivas) for the duration of the season. Sirois could immediately assume the starting keeper role while Reyes is a strong candidate for the XI at centre-back, and both Rea and Ulloa give Gale some versatility and depth in the attack. Don’t be surprised if any (or all) of these youngsters get the nod against Forge and feature regularly throughout the year.
- Seventh heaven? Forge and Valour have met on six previous occasions in CPL play. To date, the best Gale’s group has managed is a 2-2 draw — coming in the most recent fixture during the Island Games last September. As previously alluded to, Smyrniotis has had little time to get his squad up and running. Add in the favourable location of this contest and this match just might leave the door open for Valour to snatch their first-ever three points against the back-to-back champs.
Forge FC wins: 5 || Valour FC wins: 0 || Draws: 1
September 5, 2020 – Forge FC 2-2 Valour FC
“Let’s face it, training, no training, we all want to play games… that’s where we see what works, what doesn’t, what our opponents look like and we’re looking forward to it.” — Bobby Smyrniotis, Forge FC coach
“We’re praising Forge and fair play to them, they’ve got it done and they’re the team to beat, so what a perfect start.” — Rob Gale, Valour FC coach
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!