The long-awaited 2020 Canadian Championship final, two years after the earlier stages of the competition took place, was finally played on Saturday evening at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. After the two sides traded goals early in the second half, penalties would be needed to decide the winner, and Toronto FC would come away victorious.
It was the eighth time that Toronto has lifted the Voyageurs Cup, extending their lead over CF Montreal’s five and Vancouver Whitecaps’ one. The 2020 edition of the final was also the first to include a CPL club, and the game had all the makings of a cup final. With the most successful Canadian MLS team taking on the most successful CPL club, on the latter’s home turf, there was tension throughout as both looked to hoist the cup into the sky in Hamilton.
Both sets of fans were in full voice before and after the pregame festivities, before the real fireworks on the pitch began. With over 13,700 fans in attendance, the stadium was rocking all evening, especially during the more action-packed second half.
Ten minutes after the break it would be the visitors who scored the opening goal, with Alejandro Pozuelo beating Triston Henry with a shot from the edge of the penalty area. He took a touch before curling a shot into the top left corner of the goal, before wheeling away in celebration toward the Toronto FC bench.
The home side responded moments later, with Tristan Borges firing home the equalizer. It continued a big week for the Forge FC star, after he scored a hat trick midweek against FC Edmonton. The reaction from Forge and the ability to stay calm and fight back is an important trait for any team with title aspirations, and made head coach Bobby Smyrniotis very proud.
“The biggest thing we talked about is whichever way the game goes we have to stick to what we originally had talked about, whether it goes well at the start, whether it doesn’t go well, or even in the run of play in the game” he said. “The biggest thing is you have to stick to what you’re good at, and a lot of times when things aren’t going well in a game, teams have a tendency of going away from it.
“That’s one thing I’m trying to instill in the players, is stick to what we do. If for 95% of training we do certain things, why are you going to change that 50% of the time in the game? For 95% of the game, do that, that’s what going to give you success. I think that’s what the guys are doing a lot more of, and that’s what they stuck to tonight.”
Smyrniotis also said, rightly, in his postgame availability that he thought Forge were the better team in the match. There were large stretches of the match where they were on the front foot, including after Borges’ goal, where waves of Forge attacks would come up just short.
They were having a lot of success in midfield in particular, where Aboubacar Sissoko and Kyle Bekker ran the show. The whole team was relentlessly pressing all night long, and forced some turnovers to create scoring opportunities. It was a total performance, and one that other CPL teams should be keeping a close eye on — if Forge can start playing like that regularly, especially after some of their injured players back, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
“We were the dominant team on the field for 90 minutes,” he said of their performance. “They have to be proud of it. It’s tough for this evening, but if you perform like this you’ll win a lot of games. It stings in the way the result goes, but that’s the cruelty of this beautiful game. I think a lot of people sitting in the stands today walk away from here being quite entertained, and it’s a great night for Canadian soccer. Obviously not what Forge wanted, but I think we have to look at it sometimes in the bigger picture.”
Smyrniotis’ counterpart, Toronto FC’s Bob Bradley, was also impressed by his side’s showing in the match, and was particularly happy that TFC didn’t keep up their penalty shootout curse in finals. They lost the 2016 MLS Cup final at home on spot kicks, as well as the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League final against Chivas down in Guadalajara.
“The history of TFC and penalties is not a positive one,” he said with a chuckle. “We spent some time yesterday going through their approach, had them pick teams, had them walk from far out, go put it down just the way you would do it in a match. We just tried to create a new mindset that if it got to penalties, then everybody was going to be positive and we would go for it.”
“It was an important night for us,” added Michael Bradley, Bob’s son and the club’s longtime captain. “Obviously with a new team and a lot of young players, and for the way the last few years have gone — the experience for this group to play in a cup final and play in a big night is something we were really excited about. This group needed that.”
The game could have turned out a lot differently, if not for a missed opportunity for Forge to take the lead early in the match through a Tristan Borges penalty. After David Choiniere was fouled in the box by Luca Petrasso, Borges confidently grabbed the ball immediately, wanting to take it. He stepped and fired his effort off the crossbar, letting TFC get away with one.
He didn’t let his head drop, however, and was immediately back fighting for every play on both side of the ball. Getting over a mistake can be a difficult thing to do for some athletes, but Borges was able to, and later scored the equalizer as well as being named Performer of the Match. He spoke after the game about wanting to keep the momentum that a strong performance gives them into the rest of the CPL season, even if the result didn’t go the way they wanted it to.
“The only thing I can really say is that I’m proud of the group,” Borges said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs already in the season, but for us to bounce back is unbelievable. All the credit is to the team right now. The game’s over with, it’s going to sting for quite a while… I think we deserved a little more. I’m very, very proud of the guys.”