SANDOR: Forge or Cavalry favourite for Finals 2019? Well … it depends

EDMONTON – Canada, if you hadn’t noticed, is an awfully, awfully big country.

Our populated hubs are separated by hundreds, even thousands, of kilometres. We are separated by time zones. When something happens in the morning in Toronto, people in Vancouver are still in bed. If there’s a big story or event in Victoria’s prime time, it can be well past midnight in the Eastern and Atlantic time zones.

So, we’re not a country that’s super cohesive. Because of the distances between us, we make the mistake of thinking that because something is “big news” in our neck of the woods, that it must be top-of-mind everywhere else.

And how does this relate to the Forge/Cavalry Canadian Premier League final, to be contested Oct. 26-Nov. 2?

In almost every way.

Talk to soccer fans across Canada, and most will agree that the pre-season favourite to win the CPL is indeed going to be playing in the two-legged championship series. But, depending on who you ask – and, more importantly, where you ask – you’ll get different answers on who actually was that pre-season favourite.

There’s no doubt that, hosting the first CPL game, with a roster filled with League1Ontario grads and some repatriated Golden Horseshoe-bred talent, that Forge was put on a pedestal early on by a lot of the so-called experts in Canada’s most populous province. And because southern Ontario is Canada’s media hub, there was a lot of talk about the potential of Tristan Borges and Kyle Bekker and Chris Nanco and Anthony Novak and co. Of course there would be; those players are all from the area, and soccer followers there were at least somewhat familiar with those names.

But, outside of maybe Bekker, who had MLS and NASL experience, those were not household names in the West’s soccer circle. And, it was clear a different narrative was shaping itself in another part of Canada. With a lot of players who won the 2018 PDL title with Foothills, and former members of the Vancouver Whitecaps system, the narrative from the so-called experts in the West was that Cavalry was going to be the big dog from day one. And it’s fair to even go so far to say that a lot of people — especially in Alberta — didn’t quite understand all the fuss about Forge.

Forge vs. Cavalry. (Photo: Ryan McCullough).
Forge’s Kadell Thomas vs. Cavalry’s Malyk Hamilton. (Photo: Ryan McCullough).

For people in Alberta and British Columbia, it was Cavalry’s lineup that was a lot more familiar, with players they’d seen evolving in those provinces. Players like Borges and Nanco came from a faraway place; but they knew what the likes of Dominick Zator, Elijah Adekugbe, Mason Trafford, and Nico Pasquotti could do.

So, what was clear is how much regional bias existed right from day one. And that’s not necessarily unhealthy in soccer — because that’s what fuels rivalries, right?

And it didn’t take long for Forge and Cavalry have become bitter rivals. In fact, you can look back to how this league developed and understand, well, it had to happen. And, it needs to be said that the rivalry has been fueled by the regional differences. There’s a palpable feeling in Alberta that Forge has become the poster boys of the Canadian Premier League, the Dallas Cowboys of the league, if you will. Meanwhile, in Ontario, there was a feeling that maybe Cavalry was a bunch of upstarts, because who the heck are these guys, anyway?

There’s been a lot more to fuel the rivalry, too. A heated second-round Canadian Championship series saw Forge take the edge early in the second leg at Spruce Meadows, only to see Cavalry storm back with goes from Dominique Malonga and Sergio Camargo, ironically one of the few Cavalry players to come from Ontario.

Canada Soccer made the decision to only make Valour FC, Forge FC and FC Edmonton eligible for CONCACAF League qualification in 2019. So, Forge won the mini tournament between the three clubs to grab the international slot, but that rankled some Cavalry supporters, who felt that really the spot should have gone to the team that won the Spring title.

Forge, though, ended Cavalry’s unbeaten run to start the season …

Forge has improved in the Fall season; in the Spring, some defensive lapses and goalkeeping mishaps cost the Hamilton side points, and allowed Cavalry to widen the gap between the sides. Cavalry made fewer mistakes than Forge, and it showed. But Forge has limited those mistakes. True, this will never be a side that can, right from the outset, play for the clean sheet. Heck, its shutout win over Pacific was its first clean sheet in six CPL matches. But Forge doesn’t make the unforced error as much as it did in the past.

Cavalry, after swooning a bit in July thanks to a packed schedule, look to be back in Spring form. Scoring a goal when two men down, as Cavalry did against York9 on Saturday, is pretty darn incredible. And there have been some convincing victories in the past few weeks.

It looks to be a pretty unstoppable force running into an immovable object. And who do you like in the final? My guess is that it might depend on where you live.