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Forge FC, 2019 Canadian Premier League champions.
The Hamilton outfit clawed their way to lifting the North Star Shield for the first time on Saturday, as they downed Cavalry FC 1-0 at ATCO Field, Spruce Meadows, which added insurance to the 1-0 lead they earned a week prior at Tim Hortons Field. A late goal was the cherry on top for Forge, who took Finals 2019 2-0 on aggregate.
Holding on to bring the first professional championship to Hamilton since the Tiger-Cats’ 1999 Grey Cup and the Hamilton Bulldogs’ 2007 Calder Cup, Forge withstood a hostile atmosphere and an unrelenting adversary en route to one of the most intense matches the CPL has seen.
The first half sailed past quietly, with neither side establishing much of an advantage. As one might’ve expected, Cavalry took the front foot in search of multiple goals, spending almost a third of the first frame in Forge’s own third of the pitch. The Cavs owned the possession battle with 57.5 percent, flipping the script from the previous weekend and sending dangerous attacks down the right flank.
The physical tone that’s defined many of these sides’ meetings (especially Leg 1) persisted, with neither team holding back in tackles — things began to heat up with Nico Pasquotti’s 18th-minute slide through the back of Daniel Krutzen well after the play, earning the Cavalry winger a yellow card. Neither team managed to alter Forge’s 1-0 aggregate lead in the first 45; the Cavs sent some tantalizing balls over the top of the visitors’ defence, but they failed to properly test Triston Henry in goal.
Dominique Malonga had a pair of golden chances, with a 13th-minute header just sailing over the bar, and 52nd-minute header bouncing off the ground and over after a marvelous overlap on the wing from Dominick Zator.
Corner after corner, cross after cross, Cavalry sent waves of attacks at Forge in the second half, looking to break through in front of the Foot Soldiers in the supporters’ stand. It seemed that every time, though, either one of Forge’s defenders or Henry himself were there to turn the home side away.
Tommy Wheeldon Jr. injected some more vigor into his Cavalry side in the second half, introducing Jose Escalante and Oliver Minatel. Escalante, who’s become quite the villain in the eyes of Forge fans this season, nearly struck another blow to the Hammers with his first kick of the ball, but his 69th-minute free kick whistled past the right goalpost.
The second half wore on and the Cavs, conquerors of Spring and Fall campaigns, found a new level of urgency. With Forge increasingly pinned back as the Calgary altitude made their legs heavier than normal, Cavalry threw a full season’s worth of pressure at their rival’s net. Spurred on by a raucous sea of red in Calgary, the Cavs put their foes through one last 90 minutes of hell, as they’ve done all year.
The Hammers would not yield, though. They held firm through Cavalry’s 14 shots, and they secured just the third ever clean sheet for a visiting CPL team at ATCO Field.
Indeed, it was to be Forge who found the net. With all of Cavalry’s outfield players pushed into the box deep into stoppage time, a ball skipped out to Elimane Cissé behind the Cavs’ last line, deep in his own half. He and David Choinière embarked on a long 2-on-0 spring downfield, and it was Choinière who finished to seal the first-ever CPL championship.
The result also secured a piece of individual hardware for Tristan Borges, whose 13 goals on the season earned him the league’s first Golden Boot. His long-range screamer in Leg 1 stood as the only goal of Finals 2019, but what a goal it was.
With the win, Forge have also ensured that continental soccer will return to the Golden Horseshoe in 2020. As CPL champions, they’ll get to make another foray into the CONCACAF League, after a successful run this season that saw them bounced in the quarter-finals by C.D. Olimpia.
And so, the book closes on the inaugural Canadian Premier League season. Forge FC, Forever First, will now go down in history as the first team to lift the North Star Shield.
90+5′ – David Choinière (Forge FC)
18′ Yellow – Nico Pasquotti (Cavalry FC)
42′ Yellow – Anthony Novak (Forge FC)
51′ Yellow – Nik Ledgerwood (Cavalry FC)
73′ Yellow – David Choinière (Forge FC)
75′ Yellow – Jose Escalante (Forge FC)
86′ Yellow – Jay Wheeldon (Cavalry FC)
90+2′ Yellow – Triston Henry (Forge FC)
Three Key Performers
Daniel Krutzen (Forge FC)
The Belgian defender was a rock at the back for Forge, standing tall and taking several incredibly tough challenges. He was immense with 10 clearances and four interceptions, doing all he could to keep Cavalry away from his goal. Withstanding the Cavs’ pressure required incredible fortitude, and Krutzen was a prime example.
Nico Pasquotti (Cavalry FC)
One of the CPL’s most dynamic players this year out on the wing, Pasquotti owned the right flank on Saturday and sent 10 crosses into the box to try and find a target. He played with an edge, occasionally toeing the line with some of his more physical tackles, but his creativity and intensity was worth the price of admission, even if he wasn’t able to pick out a goalscorer.
Dominick Zator (Cavalry FC)
The defender seemed to show up all over the pitch in Leg 2, making his presence felt at both ends of the field. As a right-back, he led the Cavs with four shots, making several dangerous crosses and winning most of his duels. He combined well with Pasquotti on the flank but, again, was doomed by lack of finishing from his teammates in the middle.