Forge FC: Champions of the inaugural Canadian Premier League campaign. Forever first.
The faithful supporters at Tim Hortons Field will fondly remember 2019, as their team won the North Star Shield in a season filled with memorable moments. Indeed, Hamiltonians can be proud when looking back on this historic year for Forge FC – where the club captured the hearts and minds of the people of the city, and brought a trophy back to Hamilton for the first time in quite a while.
But, more than that, Forge FC reminded us that Canada is a sleeping giant in this sport.
Here’s how 2019 played out for Bobby Smyrniotis’ side in our Year in Review series:
In many ways, the major plot lines of the CPL’s first season were told through the lens of two clubs; Cavalry FC, who dominated the Spring and Fall seasons, and Forge FC, who kicked things off at Tim Hortons Field in the inaugural match, and rounded it all off by beating Cavalry in Finals 2019.
But, before we get there, let’s go back to April 27, shall we? The first match in CPL history, played in front of some 17,611 fans, squaring off two rivals in Forge of Hamilton and York9 FC of North Toronto/York Region. Those fans had better been in their seats right away – and not just to witness the first-ever singing of the Canadian national anthem, either. For, it took three minutes for history to be made, as Ryan Telfer, on loan to Y9 from Toronto FC, scored the first goal of the Canadian Premier League.
And, while Kadell Thomas equalized in the second half to split the points in the first-ever CPL match, it was Jimmy Brennan’s Nine Stripes that left Hamilton all smiles… and Tristan Borges, just 21 years old, who impressed the most, the first look at a future star player who would go on to put in league-leading performances throughout 2019.
One match does not a season make, though, a lesson Forge learned as the Spring season rolled on. It became apparent right away that Cavalry would be Forge’s biggest obstacle of the season. A home-and-away meeting in the Canadian Championship? Cavalry edged Forge to advance, the result of a testy back-and-forth in Leg 1 that yielded a late penalty and an ejection for goalkeeper Quillan Roberts, forcing midfielder Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson to don the gloves in his place.
Those were meetings two and three between these two teams. They’d meet nine times in 2019, and went into a home-and-away Finals 2019 series level on almost every category. They traded blows, of course: Cavalry winning their first-ever meeting with a late goal; Forge, handing Cavalry its first loss to end a seven-match win streak. But, Forge came just short of both Spring and Fall, earning a spot in Finals 2019 as the runner up.
Perhaps coach Bobby Smyrniotis can look at certain losses, 2-1 to HFX back on May 4, or back-to-back losses to Edmonton on June 26 and July 6, as the reason why.
Or, perhaps it was the magnitude of the task presented to them later in the summer, as the club won a spot in the Concacaf League and travelled to both Guatemala and Honduras as the league’s first representative in international competition. On that front, Forge was just as impressive, beating Guatemalan champions Antigua GFC via a 2-1 aggregate win, before squaring off against C.D. Olimpia behind closed doors on the haunted grounds of the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula, where Canada once lost 8-1 to Honduras.
The first leg, at Tim Hortons Field, saw a severely-reduced Olimpia team succumb to a 1-0 loss. Forge went into Honduras facing a bout of food poisoning, and the eery feeling of playing in an empty stadium, as Olimpia’s fans were banned from attending after fatal violence erupted in the stands in the team’s previous match against rivals Motagua.
A 4-1 loss to Olimpia ended Forge’s Concacaf League endeavours. They turned their attention back to the Fall season, where Forge and Cavalry swapped first place a number of times, before the Cavs ultimately wrapped it up for themselves. But for a 4-0 loss to York9 FC, perhaps Forge’s late Fall fate would be different. Losing Emery Welshman hurt. Adding David Edgar helped.
In fact, Edgar’s signing may have played the biggest role of all, as Forge won Finals 2019 with a strong effort at the back. Star player Borges scored his 13th goal of the year to give his team a 1-0 win in a controversial Leg 1and wrap up his Golden Boot campaign. A pair of red cards to Joel Waterman and Borges hung over the first result, and while Borges’ card was later rescinded by Canada Soccer, the second leg was significantly testier as a result.
Cavalry’s attack was described as “90 minutes of hell” all season long. That’s what Forge faced in Leg 2 at ATCO Field, Spruce Meadows; relentless pressure and constant bombardment, particularly down the right wing. But, Forge held strong, scored a last-minute goal into an open net, and claimed the North Star Shield in the process.
“Goal for 2019? Win everything that is put in front of us. Be the best team in any inaugural season ever. That’s what we play for,” – Kwame Awuah, ahead of inaugural match.
“They’re the best duo I see week in and week out. That’s why we’re excited they’re a part of this team,” – Bobby Smyrniotis, on The Killer B’s, Bekker and Borges.
“I’ll keep saying it until my voice goes out: With a team like this, with the ups and downs we had, there was a lot of pressure on us at the beginning of the season and we didn’t exactly start as well as wanted to in both halves of the season. This team really gathered together, everyone played their part, and now we have a championship” – Tristan Borges, after winning Finals 2019.