Forge FC is the first of the CPL’s top-four teams to finish their first-round campaign.
With Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Valour FC now behind them, they have the early luxury of turning their focus completely to next week’s second round.
The future was in the back of the squad’s mind even heading into the Valour game, though. Coach Bobby Smyrniotis shook up his lineup a little, handing opportunities to players such as Marcel Zajac and Jordan Dunstan. He also took the chance to fill out the club’s domestic U-21 minutes requirement, starting Baj Maan in goal and Monti Mohsen on the left wing.
“In this event it’s important how you look a little bit forward to the next matches,” Smyrniotis said after the game. “At the same time, it’s a game we want to win, a game we want to do things, but it’s also a game where we want to see a couple of different things out there in certain individuals, and just positionally on the field trying some different things out.”
The coach had an extra few words for his young goalkeeper Maan, who came in after fighting off a hamstring injury and settled into the game very well after a nervous first half-hour or so.
“Baj is a keeper who we know is gonna be a very good one in the future,” Smyrniotis said. “Today he showed glimpses of that in the game, in being a very good keeper in the moment. For a good team that’s what you need today, and I thought he was excellent today. Like with every player making their debut, especially in the keeper’s role, you may have some nerves right in the beginning, but those were all gone after the first 20 or so minutes.”
Smyrniotis was keen to use Saturday’s game to try out some tactical tweaks and test out his bench, as he zeroes in on what exactly he wants to do for these all-important second-stage games to come.
One area of focus for his side on the training pitch might be set-pieces; on Saturday, Forge conceded after a corner kick and a throw-in, adding to the string of challenges they’ve had from dead-ball situations at The Island Games.
The gaffer isn’t particularly worried, though.
“To be honest, I’m not really concerned about it,” Smyrniotis said. “The goals are gonna come in at some point so that’s where they’re coming from. It’s targeted, it’s focused, it’s something we’ll look at and we’ll try and be better. Last year none went in, and this year a few more are going in.”
The CPL champs entered this game after almost a full week off, which was a very rare luxury in this competition — and not one they’ll see again. Moving forward, though, Smyrniotis is actually fairly happy to be returning to a groove his side is used to.
He felt that, after Kyle Bekker’s opening goal against Valour, his team relaxed too much, allowing the desperate Winnipeg club to equalize and take the lead before halftime. Forge was pinned back at times in that first frame, which isn’t common for them.
“Sometimes when you keep on playing you can keep a rhythm,” he explained. “Something we learned last year with playing a lot of games, sometimes you get off of that and you can take your foot off the pedal.
“We were very good in the first 10 minutes of this game, and sometimes when you score early you think things are gonna come easy, and I think for the 20 minutes after that first 10 minutes we realized very quick that it wasn’t gonna be easy.”
But, as good teams do, Forge found a way back into the game. They didn’t need to win (although they certainly could’ve, were it not for a fantastic James Pantemis save late in the game), but they ultimately did what they needed.
Now, they look forward to round two.
“One thing we’ve learned quickly here is fatigue and injuries are a major factor on how games go and how things happen,” Smyrniotis said of what he’s expecting in the future of this competition. “I think games may start off cagey, but as they go on fatigue starts kicking in.”
He added: “We don’t have a week from now until the next one. It’s three days for some of the teams that are playing tomorrow, and we move on to the next round.”