Captain Kyle Bekker looks to lead Forge FC to new heights

Kyle Bekker has already cemented his spot in Hamilton sports history. Forge FC’s first-ever signing and the only captain in the club’s history has helped deliver three Canadian Premier League titles. He’s also been a league MVP.

For the man fondly referred to as Bekks, the decision to run it back with Forge for a fifth season was an easy one.

“I think it was all pretty straightforward,” Bekker said. “I’m really excited for two more years in Hamilton.”

Success can breed complacency, and when you’ve played in all four CPL Finals, success may even be an understatement. Not only will the club have its masterful head coach and technical director Bobby Smyrniotits back in 2023, but this edition of Forge is also a near-carbon copy of last year’s stacked squad.

Despite the bevy of talent up and down its roster, Forge did trip over a few hurdles last season — finishing the regular season in second place behind Atletico Ottawa. Forge would get the last laugh by hoisting the North Star Shield at TD Place in Ottawa to end the year, but the club at times battled to find consistency. Largely due to there being a lot of new faces and only so many matches and training sessions to build cohesion within a complex tactical system.

“How do we keep building and pushing the envelope?” Bekker asked. “We have 19 or so guys returning from last year, and for a bunch of them, it’s going to be their second year with the team.”

“We still have a very young group, and a lot of them have that first year under their belt. Now, how do they take that next step?”

For starters, there will be plenty at stake. The league added a trophy for the regular season champion late last year that will also be in play in 2023. The regular season champ and winner of the CPL Final will earn a spot in the newly expanded Concacaf Champions League. The Canadian Championship will also return, potentially giving Forge another crack at Major League Soccer clubs CF Montreal and Toronto FC.

“I think this is a perfect year for us. It’s going to be really exciting,” Bekker said. “Those fantastic four years just mean the target on our back is even bigger. We have to respect that. We have to embrace that responsibility that comes with being the champions, and it’s up to us to go out and do it again.”

Bekker was the first player in CPL history to reach 100 matches, and he did so while logging major minutes over four years. But there are only so many minutes to go around, and Forge plans on playing a lot of soccer in 2023 and beyond, so the club will be more than happy to show off its depth.

Natural selection has its place in sports. It’s not the strongest or fastest that thrive; it’s those with the ability to adapt to their environment. If Bekker is anything, it’s adaptable. He’s been playing soccer for as long as he can remember, and he has thrived by out-competing and out-thinking the opposition.

“I was never the biggest or most athletic kid and that kind of stuck with me. I had to put the work in,” Bekker recalled. “I had to be pulled off the field when I was a kid because I love the sport so much, and it’s all I ever wanted to do. I was obsessed with it — whether I was watching soccer on TV, playing FIFA, or kicking the ball around in the yard — it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

At the age of 32, Bekker says there’s still a lot he can learn.

“Learning is a life-long effort. I take the times that I’ve screwed up, and I use them to get better,” he added. “It also helps to have a great coaching staff around me.”

Forge has been the league’s measuring stick from day one, providing a blueprint for CPL success. It’s now up to the club to make sure it’s less of a measuring stick and more of a moving target.

“It’s not our responsibility to make it easier for anyone else. If we don’t win it, someone else will, so we have to be ruthless,” Bekker concluded. “If our foot is on another team’s throat, we have to keep it there.”

Bekker’s ability to lead in different ways is another example of his adaptability. Whether it’s a timely goal, assist, tackle, or pep talk, Bekks delivers. And don’t let his duck-on-a-pond exterior fool you; if his teammates aren’t playing up to their potential, they’ll hear about it from their captain. It’s a risky tactic in professional sports when pride and ego can run rampant, but when it comes from Bekker, the message is rarely ill-received. That’s because he’d never ask a teammate to do something he wouldn’t.

Respect in sports is earned, and it can be harder to come by when you’re not the biggest and most athletic player on the pitch. But Bekker knows his strengths and leans into them. Now he’s ready to lean into a new era of Forge football when the stakes have never been higher.