Oct 16, 2019; Hamilton, Ontario, CAN; Cavalry FC forward Dominique Malonga (23) tries to get past Forge FC midfielder Tristan Borges (19) in the second half of a Canadian Premier League soccer match at Tim Hortons Field. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports for CPL
There’s plenty of hardware on the line as the Canadian Premier League prepares to hand out awards on Tuesday in Toronto. There are five individual prizes on offer — Golden Boot, Golden Glove, Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and Under-21 Canadian Player of the year. We already know the Golden Boot has Tristan Borges’ name on it, but four of those have yet to be resolved.
Could Borges walk away with more than just the one trophy? Might Forge FC add even more to their trophy cabinet?
Here are our picks for each of the four CPL awards in 2019.
(The nominees: Marco Carducci, Cavalry FC; Nathan Ingham, York9 FC; Connor James, FC Edmonton)
Molinaro’s pick: Marco Carducci
Connor James and Nathan Ingham are quality shot stoppers who both enjoyed good seasons with their respective clubs in 2019. It just so happened that Marco Carducci enjoyed a better campaign. A native of Calgary, Carducci was a vital cog in Cavalry FC’s run towards winning the Spring and Fall seasons, posting a league-high nine clean sheets and finishing third overall in saves (65). More important, he served as the backbone of a Cavalry side that boasted the CPL’s best defence and reached the semifinals of the Canadian Championship.
Bedakian’s pick: Marco Carducci
I’m sure Carducci will earn a lot of praise for his saves, and for Cavalry’s generally solid defensive performances. He deserves credit there, of course. But, two things stand out about Carducci that aren’t always evident at first glance: One, he is the best technical goalkeeper in the league, in that he has the most comfortable first touch, and his passing is usually quite confident, and two – and bear with me on this because it might be a little bit of a stretch – he was the, um, first CPL player to ever get called up to the Canadian men’s national team. So, there’s that.
Thompson’s pick: Nathan Ingham
I’m being a bit contrarian, perhaps, but Inghamwas by far the busiest ‘keeper in the CPL and held his own very well, making a league-leading 89 saves while keeping a respectable save percentage (72.36 per cent) through it all. He was also a great passer of the ball, too. Carducci will get a lot of love, but he had an in-form defence in front of him most of the season. It’s easy to look impressive when your teammates are outstanding.
O’Connor-Clarke’s Pick: Marco Carducci
Any other choice would be overthinking it, frankly. Carducci backstopped the best defence in the league (fewest goals against in Spring and Fall), and he saved a penalty in the CPL Finals. He was at the top of the conversation all season long, front and centre for so many of Cavalry’s greatest moments. Carducci is the choice here, full stop.
(The nominees: Tommy Wheeldon Jr., Cavalry FC; Bobby Smyrniotis, Forge FC; Jimmy Brennan, York9 FC)
Molinaro’s pick: Bobby Smyrniotis
The Forge FC coach ably balanced his team’s domestic duties with its international commitments, guiding the club to the round of 16 of the Concacaf League. Impressively, he also led the Hamilton-based club to a strong second-place finish in the Fall season, despite dealing with a rash of injuries and losing Emery Welshman. Oh, and did I mention Forge were crowned CPL champions, shutting out the Cavalry FC and the league’s best attack in both legs?
Bedakian’s pick: Jimmy Brennan
Cavalry was previously built through the Foothills; Forge, through Sigma. Wheeldon Jr. and Smyrniotis were the architects of those teams, so full credit there, and a very great job to them both. But roster building? That’s the job of a technical director or a general manager. When you purely look at the body of work a coach is meant to take on – training, tactics, team management – the one coach who stands out to me is Jimmy Brennan. Who else brought together a group of complete unknowns and made them a unit? Who else implemented a tactical idea – ball on the ground – and stuck with it over the course of an entire season, firmly confident that time will bear fruit? Who else managed a locker room of brand-new professionals as well as he did? I see you, Jimmy.
Thompson’s pick: Tommy Wheeldon Jr.
Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is quick to point out Cavalry FC was “league” champions in 2019 after taking the Spring and Fall titles. He’s wrong, but he’s also not. Regardless, his point stands as a reminder that the Cavs were consistently the most difficult CPL team to beat in 2019 – stretching back to that seven-match unbeaten run to start the season. While he lost Finals 2019, Wheeldon was the architect to arguably the most impressive two-match run of any CPL team in 2019: a 2-1 aggregate victory over MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps.
O’Connor-Clarke’s pick: Tommy Wheeldon Jr.
No team was as synonymous with a tactical style this year than Cavalry. Their ’90 minutes of hell,’ as they’ve liked to call it, was exhausting for any team to play against. The high press wore teams down night in and night out, allowing the Cavs to capitalize late and capture three points. He also somehow managed to keep his side motivated in the Fall, despite their Spring title guaranteeing them a place in Finals 2019.
Borges was a workhorse for Forge this season, accumulating 2,459 minutes of playing time across all competitions, playing with a level of maturity that bellied his age (he only turned 21 in August) and inexperience. Forge wasn’t hurting for veteran leadership, and yet it was Borges who emerged as an important team leader, playing a pivotal role in the Hamilton club’s two-legged win over Cavalry in Finals 2019.
Bedakian’s pick: Tristan Borges (with a side of Terran Campbell)
Okay, it’s Tristan Borges. But, in defence of Terran Campbell, Borges came into the league with more experience at a much higher level with Heerenveen in the Netherlands, and was also a natural starter for his team; two things Campbell did not have going for him when he joined Pacific FC. If this is an award given to the best player, then of course it’s Borges, because he’s my pick for the league’s MVP, too; but, if we’re talking about a young player who defied expectations the way a rookie should, Campbell deserves a lot of credit.
Thompson’s pick: Tristan Borges
Consistency is one of the hardest things to grasp as a young player in a professional environment. Tristan Borges managed it better than any of these nominees – and his goal total shows it. Borges was typically one of the youngest players on the pitch but it didn’t seem that way. Perhaps that’s the best example of a “best” under-21 player – one that has emerged from the age bracket and is ready for a footballing adulthood.
O’Connor-Clarke’s Pick: Tristan Borges
On a team without many key under-21 contributors, Tristan Borges ran the show at Forge as a 20-year-old. Coming into the season with no professional experience, he was a star from the very beginning. Many of the league’s best attackers (Campbell, Easton Ongaro, and so on) were also under-21, but Borges beat them all with his untouched 13-goal year.
Yes, Borges scored 13 goals to win the Golden Boot — including the winner in Leg 1 of Finals 2019 — and he tallied five assists to finish amongst the league leaders. But that’s not the only reason why he should win the MVP honour. Borges, more than any other player, was the ultimate difference-maker for his club. Take away Borges from Forge, and do they win Finals 2019, or even qualify for the championship series? I’m not so sure. No player meant more to his team in 2019 than Borges.
Bedakian’s pick: Tristan Borges
It’s not even close, really. Borges dominated the goal category, the assist category, won the North Star Shield, scored the series-winning goal, and was the undisputed star man of the inaugural season from game 1 to game 100. I’m sure my colleagues will point out that he did all this at 21 years of age, or that his contributions were massive for Forge’s season, but here’s my take; Borges is also one of the most marketable players in the league, and the most likely player to join an MLS/European club, too. So, here’s to you, kid.
Thompson’s pick: Tristan Borges
Borges was the best CPLer of any age bracket in 2019 by a long shot. Think of the places he was able to score; one-hits outside of the box, lifting efforts in Finals 2019 and from the corner flag. He was the best pure finisher, the kind that will win games for you in a pinch (in Borges’ case, four game-winners). What else could you ask for from a forward like him?
O’Connor-Clarke’s pick: Kyle Bekker
More to spread the wealth than anything else, frankly. Bekker was the heart and soul of Forge FC this season, a constant presence during their battles with injury. Borges provided the flash, but Bekker was the spark for so many great Forge goals. He covered a ton of ground, especially in the Finals, and he was as good as anyone at distributing the ball along the turf this season. He was every bit as impactful as we expected him to be in pre-season.