Smyrniotis pleased with how Babouli has fit in at Forge: ‘He’s come with an open mind’

It’s clear to see that Forge FC have maintained their Year 1 rhythm through the first two matches of the 2020 CPL season.

The reigning CPL champs have four points, they sit atop of’s Power Rankings and the league standings, and they’re playing the same fluid football as they did in 2019.

Coach Bobby Smyrniotis played nine returnees from 2019 in their 2-0 win over FC Edmonton on Sunday. Heck, five Forge FC players made the Team of the Week, all of them stars from last season.

Of the few debutants, Mo Babouli, who was a late addition to the side before it travelled to PEI, has been a pleasant surprise for Forge.

The 27-year-old former Toronto FC player has played 92 minutes for Forge, including an hour-long effort as a forward against the Eddies. Babouli’s cheeky outside-of-the-foot pass helped set up Forge’s go-ahead goal against Cavalry in Match #1.

“He’s come with an open mind,” Smyrniotis said of Babouli. “From his short time at Sigma FC before in League1 Ontario, he has an idea of what I expect from a player playing in that position.

“There’s some freedom in that organized chaos. You’ll always have a reason for where they are being here for the past month and a half has helped him buy into that concept.”

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It’s interesting to note that only one club has evenly matched Forge FC in the CPL since Year 1.

HFC Wanderers FC is the only side that is .500 against Forge, with Stephen Hart’s side boasting a 1-2-1 record. That record will be put on the line on Wednesday when Forge faces the Wanderers at The Islands Games (8:00 p.m. ET/9:00 p.m. AT).

“I know they are always well-organized – last year they were a tough opponent for us,” Smyrniotis said ahead of Wednesday’s tilt. “They keep in good shape, dealing with teams.”

The Wanderers showed resilience against Pacific FC in their season opener, earning a 2-2 draw via a late penalty .

With just seven returning players from 2019 – nearly a third of Forge’s 17 returnees – HFX looked a lot different from Year 1, especially in attack.

“They were exciting in many phases of their game against Pacific,” said Smyrniotis, who was impressed with HFX’s new-look forward line including man of the match Cory Bent and Joao Morelli. “They have a lot of speed up top, guys can swap positions easily. It makes them more dynamic.”

Fullback Johnny Grant is still day-to-day, according to Smyrniotis, who otherwise said his team is fully fit for Wednesday.

On the mental side, Smyrniotis reports his players are in good spirits from the hotel in Charlottetown. For now, an unbeaten record papers over any homesickness.

“It always helps when you have some good performances, points on the board,” Smyrniotis said. “We can talk about the environment – the food, the rooms, this and that – but once the games start coming thick-and-fast, it’s about results and keeping things positive.”

The team is playing a lot of oversized Jenga with a heated player-vs-coach series taking over the hotel.

“Jenga has been a big hit with the team – coaches vs. players. I swear Peter Reynders was a carpenter in another life,” Smyrniotis said.

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