TORONTO – There is a well-worn phrase that is often used to describe this break in the action.
“Calm before the …”
We’ll spare you the full cliché.
Forge FC are braced for the first leg of the inaugural Canadian Premier League Championship Finals on Saturday when they welcome Cavalry FC to Tim Horton’s Field.
The anticipation is building.
“Everyone is pretty excited,” said Kyle Bekker. “We’re eager to get this thing underway. It’s been a hectic end to the season with a lot of games and a busy schedule.
“The week of preparation, ten days, was welcome, but now everyone is ready to get into it.”
As the other six CPL teams played their final matches of the regular season on the weekend, Forge had a bye following a 1-0 win over Cavalry at home on October 16.
They have used that extra time to hone themselves for Saturday’s clash.
“We look at some of the stuff that we want to work on on the field, more the positive stuff – things that we’ve been doing well in games, things that we’ve done well against Cavalry,” explained Bobby Smyrniotis of his plans for the week. “Working on a few principles, refreshing the stuff that we’ve been working at, taking it as a normal week.
“We have the luxury that we’ve played them twice in the last two weeks, so that gives us a lot to look at and see where both teams are, not in the season, but right now.”
The two sides have indeed met twice over recent weeks – the other being a 2-1 Cavalry win in Calgary – a pair of results that would see Forge lift the trophy on away goals were they to be repeated.
All season long Forge have taken the same approach: the next game is the most important one, focus on what is directly in front, and worry about the future when the time comes.
This week will be no different, but before kickoff they must endure the myriad interview requests, the extra spotlight, and the watchful eye of media day, where the CPL trophy will be unveiled.
“A lot of us would just like to go on with it, do the business on the field,” Bekker admitted. “But it comes with the job, especially with it being the first year. We want to paint a pretty picture going into the final, give the fans a little bit extra, which is nice.
“Everyone on our side just wants to get the ball rolling on Saturday and get on with it.”
Smyrniotis has nearly the entire squad at his disposal.
“At this point we look to be at full strength,” said the coach. “It’s one of a few moments in the year that we’ve been at full strength, so we’re very happy from that end.
“We’ve got 23 ready guys. We’ll be missing two from suspension, but everybody else is ready to go.”
Those two absences, one for a red card picked up last Wednesday and another for caution accumulation, are massive ones, as both Dom Samuel and Bertrand Owundi will miss the first leg.
Smyrniotis has prepared for missing two key defenders.
“Depth and the importance that players have been playing,” explained the coach. “We’re not going to ask any player to come into this lineup on Saturday who hasn’t had minutes in the last month, substantial minutes in important games.”
“We’ve rotated all our guys through. We went out to Calgary, started a guy like Klaidi Cela at right-back, making sure we keep him sharp,” Smyrniotis continued. “This is the reality of sport. On any day, whether it’s an injury, suspension, you need guys to be ready for it. We look to our depth, how we’ve used it over the year, for the most part it has worked out very well for us. We’ve got the pieces that can come into those positions very well.
“We’re not happy about not having Dom in this first leg, but that’s nothing we can control, we just move forward.”
Just another wrinkle in an already complex situation.
Two-legged series, aggregate goals, away goals rule, the first tie-breaker, in effect. One’s approach is a delicate balancing act.
The first game at home can be both a blessing and a curse.
“When you look at two-legged affairs, the first game is important, especially when you play it at home,” Smyrniotis outlined. “It’s a positive result that we want, so first and foremost we need a positive performance.”
“The goal is to keep the ball out of our net, that’s a very important thing. We’ve gone through this in Concacaf League, where we played at home to Antigua, won the game 2-1 – given up the away goal – and taken care of business down in Guatemala,” referenced the coach. “We’ve got experience from that, that’s something that the guys are aware of, but you want that positive result going into the second game where, now, both teams know exactly what they need.
“The first game is about each team trying to figure out the best way of going about it, but in the second game each will know exactly what is needed in that match.”
A goal, or two, would be nice, but it’s keeping that zero that is crucial.
“Any time you have a home-and-home where away goals play a role, you don’t want to give anything up in your back-end, don’t want to give up any goals at home, give them that advantage going back where it’s definitely a tough place to play,” stressed Bekker, expecting a hostile reception on November 2 in the return fixture. “In any game we want to go out, create chances, be attacking, put on a performance that our fans here are going to be proud of.
“And part of that, as has been our goal all season long, is to give up nothing in the end, whether it is Calgary or any team in this league. That’s been our mentality throughout. We’ve got to keep that going into this final, be sharp.”
And should it come down to spot-kicks at the end of that second leg, Forge will be ready for that too.
“Over the season we spend a dedicated time in the week working on our set-pieces, including penalty kicks,” said Smyrniotis. “You don’t want to come down to a point where it just becomes something important when there is a game on the line.
“It’s something we’ve been working on throughout the year – our weekly routine. It’s built into this week as well.”