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Tale of two strikers: Zajac shines in 905 Derby as Cox nears fitness
Canadian Premier League

When Forge FC and York9 FC first met all those weeks ago to kick off the Canadian Premier League, all that we knew, onlookers at Tim Hortons Field included, was that this league would be answering many, many questions over the next few months.

Who were the players? Which teams would shine? Who would struggle? All of these question marks hung in the air, but now, some 20 weeks or so later, a few answers have emerged.

Chiefly, the difference between Forge FC and York9 FC, rivals in the dubbed “905 Derby”, can be seen in the Fall standings, where the Hamiltonian outfit sits pretty at the top, with their QEW opposites now at sixth.

Another answer? Which players will emerge out of each team’s roster.

On Sunday, Forge youngster Marcel Zajac played hero, scoring his first goal for the club – the game-winner in a 2-1 result at Tim Hortons Field. Meanwhile, York9 head coach Jimmy Brennan turned to Michael Cox up top for this particular skirmish, whom he replaced in the 60-minute mark.

Zajac turned heads with his game-winner, of course, but Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis figures he’s just getting started.

“I thought he’s been excellent all season and all he was missing was that goal,” Smyrniotis told OneSoccer after the match. “We’re all happy for him, because he’s a guy who has a lot of goals in him in his past, and I know at this level, he’ll have ’em, (too). Sometimes, as a striker, it’s tough when you don’t get your first one, and it takes a while, so he’s gotten rid of that, and we hope there’s more to come.”

The 21-year-old, plucked by Forge out of the University of Akron, has been one of many up-and-coming talents in the Hamiltonian camp, though he isn’t a natural starter. Still, Smyrniotis’ faith has been repaid, in kind, with a three-point showing.

For his part, Zajac called his account opener “a huge relief” and added that he knew it was “a while coming, too.” He thanked his teammates and coaches for their patience, and stated he was glad to be able to “replay the team and get the winning goal.” He also acknowledged the significance of his goal, which made it just a little sweeter.

“We kind of killed two birds with one stone there, to get a win over York in a derby game, and then topping the table,” Zajac said. “And, we still have a game in hand – and we know we have to take care of that to make sure it counts. We just have to keep this going. We’re in a good flow now, and we have to make sure we win away from home now.”

Jun 5, 2019; York, Ontario, CAN; FC Edmonton midfielder Randy Edwini-Bonsu (11) battles for the ball with York 9 forward Michael Cox (92) in the second half of a Canadian Championship soccer match at York University Field. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports for CPL
Jun 5, 2019; York, Ontario, CAN; FC Edmonton midfielder Randy Edwini-Bonsu (11) battles for the ball with York 9 forward Michael Cox (92) in the second half of a Canadian Championship soccer match at York University Field. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports for CPL

On the opposite spectrum, Brennan hasn’t had quite the same satisfying pay-off from his second-string striker Cox quite yet, though the Y9 coach is optimistic that a similar bow could be on the cards for the 27-year-old, who has battled injuries throughout the season.

As Brennan explained to CanPL.ca’s Nolan Kangas, Cox is now starting to return to form following groin problems during York9’s trip to Alberta, and the team is hoping Cox’s run-out against Forge on Sunday paves the way for a similar sort of performance as Zajac’s, later down the Fall campaign.

“Against Cavalry, we brought Michael on, and I thought he did really well,” Brennan told CanPL.ca. “We wanted him to play against Edmonton as well, but he ended up pulling his groin. For the last couple weeks, he’s been training well, and he looked good, so that was one of the reasons we wanted to give him a shot. Plus, we wanted to work (Forge’s) backline today, and we wanted to split their defenders (to) get down the sides of them, and Michael’s good at that.

“

I think his fitness has got to be better than it is now, though. Like I said, he’s had a few injuries and he’s still coming back so he doesn’t have that match sharpness. But, we feel he’s getting there, and we thought he did alright today.”