TORONTO – When Forge FC travels to Alberta for Leg 2 of the Canadian Premier League Finals against Cavalry, as it stands, they will go with their full roster, bar one – Tristan Borges.
Even Jonathan Grant who was not in the squad on Saturday will be available for the finale at ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows (3:30 p.m. ET, 1:30 p.m. MT/available on OneSoccer).
“No knocks. Everyone is good. Everyone looks good, feels good,” said head coach Bobby Smyrniotis. “Jonny is coming along. He should be ready for this weekend and we’ll make that decision.
“He was a last-minute decision to leave out of the lineup on Saturday, just to get him fully fit for this week and we’re still on that trajectory.”
But with Dominic Samuel and Bertrand Owundi available again following suspensions and Borges’ inclusion uncertain, the coach and his staff face some questions in assembling their XI.
“We know our strongest lineups for certain tactical situations, so from that end we know how to bring in and who to bring in based on guys like Dom and Bertrand,” began the coach. “When it comes down to Borges we’ve got to wait on a decision, but in our week of planning, the way we train and prepare for an opponent, it’s not based on just working on a set eleven players for that game.”
“I make sure I have everyone through the rotations because you never know,” he continued. “It’s a split-second, it’s a last-minute injury, it’s something is wrong with a player. Everyone needs to be prepared and ready to go in. We take this week as we normally do, everyone getting rotations in their positions to understand tactically what we’re doing, so the focus is with all the players.
“That’s been one of the keys to our success this season. We’re able to slot players in position to take care of business and we’ll do the same if we have to on Saturday.”
Down a goal from the first leg, Cavalry’s approach to the match must change.
“It’s your last game,” laid bare Smyrniotis. “They’re a team that have done well over the season, a team that takes pride in playing a style of football that they like and that’s something that hasn’t come out in the last couple of games. It’s their opportunity to do that.
“We’ll see a much more energetic team from their end. They’ve got to go for it.”
Forecast Owundi: “It won’t be easy at all. They’re a team that gives everything, always trying to force mistakes.
“We have to be totally focused if we want to be able to play this extremely difficult match.”
Forge will give them no quarter either.
“A lot of teams give them too much respect,” suggested Samuel. “They kind of back off and let them play, which is what they want. We wanted to go at them, put the pressure on them so that they have to play.
“As you could see, we clearly dominated them that game.”
“Over there, they’re down 1-0, so they’re going to be more aggressive to get a goal and to even up the score,” he continued. “They’re going to have to do a lot defensively because that away goal is going to hurt.
“They’ll be more aggressive, but conservative at the same time.”
It is the last game of the season, so leave it all on the field.
“We’ve got one more game to win: that’s the mentality in our locker room, the mentality we have,” stressed Smyrniotis. “You don’t sit here and look at the scores and the aggregates and all of that stuff. We know where we can be successful playing against Cavalry, we just have to go out there and put our tactical game-plan to use.
“The last two games we’ve done that very well and that’s the formula we’ll take into this next game.”
The first goal, as ever, will be key.
“It’s something we’ve done out there in two of our games. We’ve gone out, we’ve scored early and that’s put pressure on them,” recalled Smyrniotis – both times, it was their captain Bekker who found the back of the net. “If we can get that first goal, which we’re looking to do, it starts becoming more of an open match where we can find our opportunities to attack.
“The mentality is to go out there and go for the win. We understand the importance of getting that goal and getting it first. That changes the complexion of the game.”
In that regard, Forge are stacked with players who have shown an ability to find the back of the net.
Only six players on the roster, including Samuel and Owundi, have not scored in the CPL this season and two of those – Justin Stoddart and Oluwaseun Oyegunle – were late additions.
In finals, it often falls to the extremes: either the stars score, as Borges did in the first leg, or it falls to unexpected sources.
Smyrniotis offered one such candidate: Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson.
“Maybe he’s the guy,” said the coach. “He’s put in a lot of work this year. He was fantastic in the first leg – a player coming back from injury, he puts in a great performance – so if we don’t get it from one of our usual suspects, I see it coming from an unlikely source and he’s one of those guys that works.
“In training, he’s around the goal, around things, especially on set-pieces and so on. Maybe he’s the one that’s going to finally get one.”
Getting results at the pointy end of the season come down to two factors: form and who wants it more.
“Form is one thing and right now we’re playing some good football,” said Smyrniotis. “We’ve got two wins in our two games against Cavalry, some very convincing type of football. That’s very good for the mentality of our team. I don’t know what it does to the other side, I can only speak on our end. We’ve got that confidence.
“And then the other is the component of, ‘Hey, it’s one game’. It’s one game that’s left,” he continued. “It’s that will and desire to push that extra metre on the field, to make that extra challenge, to make that good decision or final pass that is going to give a goal. It comes down to that.
“The will and desire to fight for every moment of the game, that’s going to be important on November 2.”
The title of champions of the inaugural CPL season and the North Star Shield that comes with it goes to the side left standing after 90 more minutes and, possibly, a shootout.