SANDOR: Matches between CPL ‘top four’ will shape Fall race

The Canadian Premier League Fall season isn’t even a third of the way complete, but we’re seeing a divide between the top four teams and the bottom three.

At the top, Cavalry FC and Forge FC, who have been the favourites to be the CPL finalists from the start of the season, are tied on 10 points, but Cavalry does have a game in hand. But York9 is just a point back, and FC Edmonton is only two points behind the leaders. So, in baseball terms, we’d say four teams are all within one game of each other in the standings.

And it’s York9 and FC Edmonton that are the subject of this column; York is doing what coach Jim Brennan, at the beginning of the fall season, said they had to do; transform their propensity for drawing games into an ability to win games. And FC Edmonton is presenting an awful physical challenge for opponents, with what looks like a basketball team that’s difficult to break down.

So, let’s look at some key games that may determine if either the Eddies and York9 can be the Cavalry’s opponent in the CPL Championship final.

Eddies vs. Cavalry, August 16

We will likely know a heck of a lot more about FC Edmonton’s title chase on the evening of August 16th. Right now, the Canadian Premier League has the Eddies set to play at Spruce Meadows against the Cavalry that evening. Usually, a trip to Spruce Meadows is a pretty awful prospect for the visiting team — but, consider that the Cavalry is set to host the Montreal Impact in the second leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal just two days before.

That means the Cavalry’s “A” squad will only have 48 hours to recover from playing an MLS side on the heavy Spruce Meadows pitch. Either that means the Eddies will get a tired Cavalry squad, or a rotated Cavalry squad. This is a major opportunity for the Eddies to get something out of a road visit to a place that usually means zero points for the visitors.

Eddies vs. Valour, October 5

Right now, Valour is at the foot of the fall table. The Winnipeg team got the wooden spoon out of the spring season. Yet, Valour’s record against Edmonton has been decent. In two visits to Edmonton, Valour has a win and a draw. Edmonton did win the spring-season opener in Winnipeg, but hasn’t beat Valour since then. If the Eddies are to contend, they can’t afford to allow Valour to win the season series against them. The late-season game in Winnipeg will be crucial to FC Edmonton, if the team is indeed in the race.

York9 vs. Forge FC, August 28, September 8 and October 6

Since Cavalry has clinched a spot in the final thanks to its spring-season triumph, Forge is the team that York9 and/or FCE will need to target in order to get the fall-season spot. FCE has enjoyed a good record against Forge this season, going 2-1-1 over the spring and fall campaigns.

But York still has three, count ‘em, three games left against Bobby Smyrniotis’s men. The first one is at home, while the next two come in Hamilton. If one team sweeps the other, that’s nine points for one, a loss of nine potential points for the other. That’s right — there’s a potential for an 18-point swing, right there. Now a three-game sweep isn’t likely… but it’s not impossible, either.

York9, of course, drew Forge FC 1-1 in Hamilton for the April 27 CPL curtain-raiser. But Forge responded with a comprehensive 2-0 win when it headed north to York. It will be York9’s athleticism and ability to score on the counter vs. Forge’s sustained pressure.

And, of course, FCE (and the rest of the league) will be watching, praying for three draws.

Eddies vs. York9, August 25 and September 21

If York9 and the Eddies are to contend for a title, the team that emerges will likely have gotten the better of the other down the stretch. The Nine Stripes have two games left against FC Edmonton. But this is where it gets interesting — and a little scary for coach Jim Brennan’s men.

York9 have beaten FCE twice and drawn once at York Lions Stadium, over the course of regular-season and Canadian Championship games. The cozy confines of the York pitch have suited the home team well.

But, both of the remaining games will be at Clarke Stadium; York9 have played there just once, a 1-0 “loss” in the second leg of the Canadian Championship qualifier. But, it needs to be stated that York9 set themselves up to defend right from the get-go, to protect a 3-1 first-leg lead. So that loss has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Still, the Eddies have home advantage in their final two meetings against York9, and that’s something. They don’t have to return to a place which hasn’t been kind to them this season.