CALGARY – For a man who will have the services of the CPL’s top scorer in Leg 2 of Finals 2019, after it was in doubt for much of the week, Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis was playing it cool on Friday afternoon.
A day earlier, Forge received a reprieve from Canada Soccer when its disciplinary committee overturned the red card Tristan Borges earned in last week’s Leg 1 of the Canadian Premier League Finals. Forge beat Cavalry FC 1-0 in Hamilton on the strength of Borges’ first-half goal.
Had the red card not been rescinded, Borges, who tops the CPL scoring charts with 13 goals this season, would have been suspended for Saturday’s return match at ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows.
As it stands, the red card was overturned on appeal, which allows Borges to play in Leg 2, thus giving Forge a major boost. But Smyrniotis offered a muted response when asked about Borges’ return to the lineup when speaking to reporters on Friday, pointing out that his star scorer is just one piece of the puzzle.
“Are we happy? Of course. You always want all of your players available to play in a final match of the season,” Smyrniotis said.
“To be honest, this has been one of the few times this season we’ve had all of our players healthy and ready to go.”
Forge captain Kyle Bekker welcomed the return of Borges, explaining that Borges has been “integral to what we’ve done this year.”
“There’s no question he’s been fantastic for us all season. He’s a fantastic player, and any team in this league would be happy to have him in their (starting) 11. For that (appeal) to go through, we’re happy to have him here,” Bekker stated.
Borges was philosophical about the red card appeal process, and was just glad that it’s behind him so that he could focus on the task at hand – helping Forge hoist the North Star Shield.
“Obviously it’s exciting for myself, but for me, the biggest thing is to be able to play another game with my teammates, being able to win a championship, and not end off my season with a red card. The biggest thing is being able to play another game with these guys,” Borges offered.
Cavalry captain Nik Ledgerwood, a veteran player with 50 caps for Canada to his credit, is well aware of the danger that Borges poses for the visitors coming into Saturday’s contest. Ledgerwood also said he and his teammates prepared all week as though Borges would be available for Leg 2.
“He’s a talented young player who finds good pockets of space to turn into, and he knows when to shoot, he knows where the goal is. He’s had an exceptional year,” Ledgerwood told CanPL.ca.
So, how do you go about stopping Borges or, at the very least, limit the damage he can do? Legderwood offers up a straightforward theory.
“You have to limit the service he gets. It’s not so much about stopping him when he’s on the ball – if you can cut off the service to him, then you’ve already won half the battle, and I think our playing style, especially at home, limits that.”
He later added: “We’re a different beast at home. We play attacking, front-foot, high-pressing football when we’re at home… The altitude here sometimes get to opposing teams in the last 15 to 20 minutes. It’s hard coming here as an away team.”
The fact that the pitch at ATCO Field is smaller and narrower compared to the pitch that Borges routinely plays on at home in Hamilton could also work against the Forge attacker.
“(Tim Hortons Field) plays to the advantage of Forge and their pacey attackers, and it creates bigger pockets for players like Bekker and Borges to pick it up. Here, we play on a tight field, in tight conditions,” Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. offered.
Wheeldon was also quick to point out that Borges has yet to score at ATCO Field this year, which bodes well for a Cavalry side that needs to overturn a one-goal deficit to win the two-legged series.
“He’s scored against us with 10-men (in Leg 1) and in the first game we played them (in Hamilton on May 12), and we’ve played them eight times. He’s a very good player. Let me make that clear. Now we know he’s starting, and that makes our job easier because now we know how to prevent,” Wheeldon said.
Smyrniotis isn’t bothered by the fact that Borges has yet to break his goal drought away to Cavalry this season, mostly because his team overall has had no issues scoring in Calgary.
“Not something we really pay attention to, in terms of where he’s scoring, the most important thing is he scores quite often. The most important thing is we’ve come here three times and scored each time,” Smyrniotis said.