The Island Games are in full stride now, with every team having hit the pitch in Charlottetown at least once.
Forge FC, whose 2-0 win over FC Edmonton on Sunday put them joint-first in the table, have begun to settle into a strategy with 180 minutes of soccer under their belts after 10 months off. The CPL champions were composed and well-organized in their second game, managing to avoid conceding an open-play goal yet again.
“We were a lot more calm on the ball today, which is what we set out to do,” said captain Kyle Bekker, who’s played every minute of Forge’s two contests. “That’s something we did a lot better today than we did in the first game, building out from the back, getting into those positions and sustaining pressure in their half which is good to see.
“It’s obviously a credit to our defensive block and the way we can compact and push them to the outside and make it difficult.”
Forge did indeed manage to keep Edmonton to the outside on Sunday, limiting them to 17 touches in the 18-yard box (just six of which were toward the middle). The Hamilton-based side did allow the Eddies to take 13 shots, but only two of those hit the target.
And regardless, Forge dictated the pace of play with their 62.5 per cent possession.
“Today we were very honest with our positioning,” coach Bobby Smyrniotis said. “We held our positioning very well, especially on anything that had to do with the counter that FC Edmonton came with.”
He added: “But to be honest, the best way to defend is to make sure you’re controlling tempo of the game, on the ball, have a good offence, and I think that’s what we did very well today that allowed us to defend very well as a team.”
Forge definitely did control the tempo on Sunday. The midfield trio of Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson, Kyle Bekker, and Paolo Sabak had the ball almost the entire afternoon, and the passing statistics for stalwart centre backs David Edgar and Daniel Krutzen really need no comment:
Sabak, in particular, has caught the eye of fans, having started in both games after joining the club from Dutch club NEC Nijmegen in April. He offers a slightly different skillset to the departing MVP Tristan Borges — Sabak sits a little deeper, and seems more likely to win an assists crown than the Golden Boot — but the quality of Forge’s squad has taken no hit.
“I think anyone with eyes and a brain can see he’s talented, man,” Bekker said of his new teammate. “He’s unbelievable on the ball and he gives us something special. He’s definitely hard to play against and he can open teams up and create those chances. So I think you’ve just gotta keep trying to find him with the ball.”
A player like Sabak in midfield might make Bekker’s life a little easier, certainly.
Now that every CPL side has seen action, Smyrniotis is eager to begin phase two of his tournament plan, and start properly scouting his opposition. Having taken on two sides playing their first games of 2020, there was little Forge could do to prepare specifically for Cavalry and, much more so, FC Edmonton.
“We’re able to start looking at our opponents,” Smyrniotis said. “In our first two games we didn’t know anything about what our opponents would look like in 2020, with no advanced scouting. Now we go to Wednesday’s game at least having the ability to see our next opponent, and also see a couple of games of what’s working very well for our guys, and I think that gives you a good map forward in this event.”
So, through one weekend of The Island Games, it’s advantage Forge (and Cavalry), as Smyrniotis bears down to prepare for a clash with HFX Wanderers FC on Wednesday.