In the immediate aftermath of Forge FC’s 2-2 season-opening draw with Cavalry FC on Thursday night, the CPL champions may have hung their heads after a stoppage-time penalty for the Cavs allowed the Calgary-based team to salvage a point in PEI.
Looking back at it all, though, a split decision may not be an unfair result.
After a first quarter of the match that their opponents dominated — Forge struggled to break through Cavalry’s famed high press — Bobby Smyrniotis’ side began creeping slowly up the field, nicking a 26th-minute goal from Anthony Novak and generally growing into the game.
“We adjusted to (Cavalry’s press) and it got a lot better after that,” Smyrniotis told reporters after the game. “We knew Cavalry was gonna come out fast and quick, that’s something that they have in their game. But we also knew that it wasn’t something that was going to be sustainable.”
A halftime decision by Smyrniotis to deploy David Choinière at right wing in lieu of Marcel Zajac also made a quick impact; the 23-year-old hit all 12 of his attempted passes, and he ultimately provided the sublime cross that led to Kyle Bekker’s goal in the 71st minute.
“(Choinière) gave us very good energy, great assist on the goal and his general play was very good,” Smyrniotis said. “One of our biggest strengths is our versatility in our front line. If you look at it today, we played six different players in our front line, and we didn’t miss a beat.”
Indeed, Forge kicked off with an attacking trio of Novak, Zajac, and Chris Nanco. By the 66th minute, the front three were Choinière, Kadell Thomas, and Mo Babouli — the latter player also contributing to the second goal with a superb touch and run to find Choinière on the wing.
Depth has been heavily discussed as Forge’s greatest strength leading up to The Island Games, and that was proven true on Thursday. Indeed, the new rule allowing five substitutions probably helped Smyrniotis lean on his depth even more, since he surely wouldn’t have swapped out his entire front three if it burned all of his options.
Smyrniotis continued to say that his club’s wide play truly set them apart from the team they’ve confronted more than any other.
“We knew where we can find spaces on the field, and at points we were able to find them easily,” he mused. “Crosses in the outside part of the field, especially on the right side; I thought Jonathan Grant was excellent for us… in getting forward and just providing that overload on the right side especially.”
Indeed, it was Grant’s work up the right flank that ultimately produced the pinball cross before Novak’s goal. Before the fullback was subbed off due to injury in the 78th minute, he’d been racing up and down the flank like a player with mid-season fitness.
Of course, despite a positive performance that saw Forge improve in a crescendo, neither side will walk away with three points. As always between these two teams, the fixture had its share of drama — which came on Thursday in the form of a ball that hit Dominic Samuel’s arm (or ribs, or elbow…) in the box, giving the Cavs a late equalizer from the spot.