PREVIEW: HFX Wanderers FC vs. Forge FC — CPL Match #25 (ComeOn! Match of the Week)

2022 CPL Regular Season — Match #25 (ComeOn! Match of the Week)
HFX Wanderers FC vs. Forge FC
May 20, 2022 at 7 p.m. AT/6 p.m. ET
Wanderers Grounds in Halifax, Nova Scotia
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Two clubs eager to get back to winning ways will meet this Friday night in the ComeOn! Match of the Week, when Forge FC travel to Nova Scotia for a clash with HFX Wanderers FC.

This fixture, a rematch of the 2020 CPL Final at the Island Games, has always been a tough one; Bobby Smyrniotis’ Forge side have had the slight upper hand historically, but Stephen Hart is well-known for setting up his Wanderers teams to be very difficult to play against.

Forge will arrive in Halifax looking for the breakout win they’ve been searching for the past few weeks. As it stands, they’re in seventh place — not an area of the table with which they’re too familiar — with one win, two draws, and two defeats for five points so far. Of course, they’ve played at least one fewer game than most teams in the league, with their match against Valour FC being postponed, but they’d nonetheless like to start climbing soon.

Their most recent outing was a close-fought 1-1 draw at home with Atlético Ottawa, where Noah Jensen’s screamer after halftime levelled the score for the Hamilton side. The point was a well-earned one and they did well to come back from a goal down, but Smyrniotis and Forge would nonetheless feel they could have won the match, having heavily out-shot and out-possessed Ottawa.

Smyrniotis spoke on Wednesday about some of the challenges facing his team in Halifax:

“You’re going to play on a grass pitch; we don’t know the quality of the pitch at this moment, usually early in the year it’s not at its best,” he said. “Other than that, both teams are competing for three points. It’s a team that competes in every single one of their matches, whether they’re winning right at the end, or the last game they’ve lost points right at the end. I think that’s indicative of what’s going on these first few games of the league… They’re a challenging opponent, but for us we have to focus on ourselves.”

The Wanderers remain at home after playing out a frantic 2-2 draw with Cavalry FC on Sunday. Goals from Akeem Garcia and Sam Salter were enough to claim a point, and they looked as though they might come away with the 2-1 win, but Cavalry’s Daan Klomp ripped two points from their hands in stoppage time with his equalizer.

So, Hart’s club is sitting on a 2-2-2 record from six matches, which puts them in a dead heat with four other teams (covering second to sixth place) at eight points. They’ll be keen on putting another win on the board this weekend, having split the points in their last two league matches.

Hart revealed on Thursday that his side remains a little shorthanded, with Cory Bent in particular set to miss out due to injury and a few players still on the sidelines as well. Eriks Santos came out of the previous game late with what appeared to be an injury, so he may be a late decision for Friday night too.

Matches between these two teams were generally close in 2021, with two draws and a narrow win each from their first four contests, but the fifth meeting — a showdown in late October at Tim Hortons Field — tipped the scales heavily in Forge’s favour, as the Hammers won 4-1 with three goals in the first 25 minutes of action.

Both clubs have a massive Canadian Championship tie against MLS opposition coming up a few days after this game, but they won’t be able to look past the league match with points at a premium in the CPL.

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  • Both sides look to start rolling before CanChamp: Bobby Smyrniotis and Stephen Hart would probably both concede that neither of their clubs has fully hit its stride yet this season in the early going. The two managers will, therefore, be desperate to see their team find a new gear on Friday night as they head into the following week’s Canadian Championship quarterfinals — HFX will host Toronto FC on Tuesday, and Forge will head to play CF Montréal on Wednesday. Therefore, this Friday night match is a prime opportunity for both of these teams to make final adjustments and fine-tune their tactics in what’s sure to be an extremely competitive fixture. The two managers have shown a preference in the past for keeping their squad relatively consistent before midweek games rather than rotating (often by necessity), so look for them both to deploy strong lineups.
  • Defensive availability questions for Forge: The Hamilton club impressed over the weekend by rolling with the punches. When Bobby Smyrniotis learned he would have zero natural centre-backs available for the match against Atlético Ottawa, he adapted by starting a back three of Ashtone Morgan, Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson, and Aboubacar Sissoko (a natural left-back and two central midfielders, respectively). Achinioti-Jönsson has played a lot of centre-back for Forge, especially this year with Daniel Krutzen injured, and Sissoko has become used to playing on the right of a four- or five-man backline, but this particular formation was still uncharted territory. They did very well in possession and ultimately weren’t asked to do a lot defensively, but Smyrniotis will still be happy that Garven Metusala is now available after a medical procedure on his eye last week. “I’m confident in the players in this squad that we have,” Smyrniotis said. “You have to move things around sometimes but that makes you better as time goes on, makes you a bit more tactically versatile. Certain things we have in our heads or our pockets we usually keep in our pockets, but sometimes we have to get them out.”
  • Set-pieces take prime importance: Of the nine goals HFX Wanderers have scored this year (all competitions), seven of them were the result of set-pieces — whether a penalty, corner, or free kick. Forge have conceded just one set-piece goal all season (not counting their Champions League tie with Cruz Azul), in part because they give up very few opportunities. Limiting fouls in the defensive third and corner kicks will be crucial to Forge’s success in Halifax, given how dangerous the Wanderers have been from dead-ball situations — which, in Smyrniotis’ mind, will primarily mean keeping the ball in Halifax’s half. The Forge coach added: “The best way to defend in football is to attack — to be in as much control as you can be in the game. That neutralizes those opportunities. And then just being careful in your own half of the field, when you’re aggressive and where you don’t need to be aggressive for no reason. Sometimes a lot of challenges and fouls come from unnecessary situations. (HFX) have done a great job in the set-piece department so it’s something we’ve seen and we’ve looked at, and we’ve talked to the guys about how to control ourselves in those situations.” For Hart, although he conceded it would be nice to score a few more from open play, he has no problem with goals coming from set-pieces, since they still need to get the ball into those dangerous areas to win fouls: “I don’t really care how we score,” he said. “You’d love to get goals from open play, but we’ve gotten set-pieces because we’ve been attacking. Once you continue doing that, opportunities will arise.”


HFX Wanderers wins: 2 || Forge wins: 4 || Draws: 6

Previous match:

October 30, 2021 — Forge 4-1 HFX Wanderers


“We have no illusions. We’re playing, in my opinion, the best team in the league. They’ve been to three finals, they’re our flagship team in Concacaf, and they know how to play these away games, so we’ll have to be on our best performance collectively.” — HFX Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart

“We’ve been playing some excellent football over the games we’ve been playing; we’re just lacking something in that final part of the field, and that’s the toughest thing to do in football. We’re not going change and become a team that makes things very random on the field, puts things up for chance or luck. We’re gonna continue to play football.” — Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis