Really, the all-or-nothing elimination match played out pretty much as Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis expected: the Cavs, needing a win where a point would’ve done for their opponents, pressed hard and left a high line, meaning Forge could comfortably sit back and punish the open spaces when opportunities arose.
“I think we had a very distinct tactical plan in this game and the guys went out and executed it,” Smyrniotis told reporters after the game.
“If we’d done it just a little bit better I think we’ve probably got a few more goals in this game. We exploited the space that Cavalry leaves on the field in a lot of situations in the game, and that’s how the goal comes. That’s a play that comes out of training the day before. It’s exactly what we had foreseen and it’s always great as a coach when you see that in the game.”
Mo Babouli was the beneficiary of that straight-off-the-training-pitch goal, as he managed to chip Cavs goalkeeper Marco Carducci after getting on the end of a perfect Kyle Bekker through ball. The 27-year-old striker scored his first goal as a CPL player, earning a spot in the starting 11 thanks to a weakness in the Cavalry tactics that Smyrniotis identified.
“We’ve used our strikers in different roles, whether it’s (Anthony) Novak, (Gabriel) Balbinotti, and Babouli, and this is a game that really was set for Mo with the certain spaces you could find in front and behind the central defenders of Cavalry,” Smyrniotis explained.
“One thing Mo doesn’t lack is confidence. It was a very good game from him.”
It was quite the professional performance all around for the defending champions, who were fine with ceding possession in order to keep Cavalry lumbering in their own half. The Cavs had just 11 touches in the Forge box on Tuesday, only putting three of their 11 shots on target.
Goalkeeper Triston Henry stood tall to claim pretty much everything sent high into the penalty area, and for everything else, there was the inch-perfect defensive line.
“We’re pretty confident knowing how (Cavalry) attack, and especially when the game’s a little bit desperate for them,” Smyrniotis said of his defensive planning.
“It’s very direct in the central axis, so we had that plan. Then every ball was coming in to (Daniel) Krutzen, (David) Edgar, and (Alexander) Jonsson’s head, so to be honest it made it easy for us.”
With this final group stage tie having gone pretty much to plan for Forge, Smyrniotis will have to return to the drawing board for Saturday’s final. HFX Wanderers FC, the club standing in the way of their title defence, have played Forge extremely well in the past, drawing both contests at The Island Games.
“We always get the questions about Forge and Cavalry, but we’ve had an easier time beating Cavalry than we have HFX over these two years, so I think that’s something that people miss out on in these games.” Smyrniotis pointed out.
“They’re a good squad, they’re a side that has a distinct way of playing. … I think it’s gonna be a very good matchup. It’s two teams that know exactly what they want on the field, two teams that have an identity, that work for them. I think it’s gonna make for a great final.”
Smyrniotis will be trying to find a way to score more than one against the Wanderers this time around, with the North Star Shield (and a place in the Canadian Championship final) now very much in the crosshairs.