MATCH ANALYSIS: Forge, Cavalry neutralized in scoreless battle of familiar opponents
Canadian Premier League

Final Score: Forge FC 0-0 Cavalry FC
Goalscorers: None
Game of the 2023 season: 92
CPL match: 459

Match in a minute or less

Cavalry FC will remain four points clear atop the table this week after they and Forge FC fought to a scrappy 0-0 draw on a drizzly Saturday night at Tim Hortons Field.

Although the two heavyweight sides threw plenty of blows at one another, neither of them were able to land the knockout punch to bag all three points. Cavalry controlled the lion’s share of possession on the road, but couldn’t generate a shot on target; Forge had four, but couldn’t beat Marco Carducci in goal.

So, the two sides left the weekend in similar position to where they began it, as the 2023 season continues to race toward a tight finish in the standings.

Three Observations

Two familiar foes cancel each other out in tactical stalemate

When you play against a team as many times per year as CPL teams do, games will always naturally get a little cagier as coaches begin to figure out their opponent.

Bobby Smyrniotis and Tommy Wheeldon Jr. have now managed against each other 24 times as Forge and Cavalry managers, and this was the seventh draw between them. They’re both extremely familiar with how the other likes to play, which has prompted them at times to try and throw different tactical curveballs at one another — but still they’ll run into a stalemate at times.

This game was, essentially, a case of two very good, familiar teams cancelling each other out over the course of a tactical chess match.

“We’re getting bored of each other,” Wheeldon joked postmatch. “Bored of Bobby’s beard, Kyle Bekker — but no, listen: They’re a terrific football club. They’re on the chase now; we knew coming here we had to pick up some points, so if you can’t beat them just make sure they don’t beat you, and I think that’s what we achieved here tonight. Kept a clean sheet, and it was a very professional performance, especially after the manner in which we played last week.”

Certainly, given the way things were in the standings — and still are, thanks to the split points — there was much more pressure on Forge to get three points in this game and keep pace. A loss would have been a disaster for their title hopes, leaving them seven points adrift of first place, but a win would have vaulted them right back into the conversation. For Cavalry, meanwhile, a point in Hamilton is easily palatable.

“It’s a game where one team needs to come in and win and another team doesn’t need to, and that usually sets something up for a game,” Smyrniotis said.

He added: “Credit to them, because they needed to find the goal if it came, and if not, no problem. We’ve been in these situations before on how you manage games, I thought we could have been a little bit more aggressive in certain phases of the game. A lot of our shots have come from further distance, good, they’re finishing opportunities, but we needed to get a little bit closer to goal today.”

Cavalry definitely felt very dangerous on the counter-attack today, although they had to manufacture some of those counters with direct balls forward because of how much possession they had; however, they didn’t end up with a shot on target. They definitely did not need to get particularly aggressive in attack to look for a goal, which left attackers — Myer Bevan especially, with 25 touches over 90 minutes — quite isolated.

If an opportunity had presented itself, Cavalry would have been thrilled to score and win, but that never came and thus later in the match they opted to protect the clean sheet, securing a useful point.

HAMILTON, ONTARIO, CANADA/ Canadian Premier League/Sep.9th, 2023/ Jojo Yanjiao Qian/Forge FC

Cavalry dominate possession to suffocate game in quality road performance

Last season, Cavalry picked up just 17 points from 14 league games away from home. All four of their road victories were against non-playoff teams, and they picked up just two of a possible 12 points from their visits to Forge and Atlético Ottawa.

Now, as they sit four points above the rest in the table with 16 away points and two road games left, it seems the tide has shifted a little in how the Calgary side comports itself away from home.

After their emotional win in Ottawa last weekend, they walked into Tim Hortons Field and commanded the ball. This was just the second time Forge have been out-possessed at home this season, and by the heaviest ever margin in a CPL regular season match — they’ve never had less than 40 per cent before.

Of course, it’s worth nothing that ceding possession was in fact part of Forge’s game plan, but it ultimately ended up favouring Cavalry who were content with the draw.

Still, there’s been something impressive about Cavalry’s play on the road in recent weeks; they’re certainly not afraid of any venue in the CPL, and their identity doesn’t change when they leave Alberta. In the final 20 minutes of the game, when Forge were desperate for a goal, the Cavs still managed to hold onto more than 50 per cent of the possession and gave up just one shot — off target and outside the box. They sucked a lot of the energy out of the game and disrupted Forge’s attacking rhythm.

Wheeldon Jr. commended his side’s defensive effort in particular postmatch, singling out Daan Klomp — a stalwart force as always in the middle of the back three, and once again venturing into midfield frequently — but overall he was complimentary of how professionally Cavalry saw out the clean sheet.

“We lost the regular season title last year by, what, two points? And our road performances weren’t good enough,” he said. “We were always trying to beat teams, and sometimes taking a point on the road is good against teams that are in the hunt with you. We know every game is basically in the hunt, and we saw the chaos that ensued in last night’s games.

“We had a strategy to try and win this game, didn’t quite work out there with maybe our attacking quality, but I thought we dominated periods of possession that took the life out of the game and I thought that was a good strategy from our guys.”

Yet another challenging away trip approaches in short order for the Cavs: They’re off to Halifax to play the Wanderers on Tuesday. If they can pull out a result there as well, this may well be the year for a Cavalry charge to a league title.

HAMILTON, ONTARIO, CANADA/ Canadian Premier League/Sep.9th, 2023/ Jojo Yanjiao Qian/Forge FC

Forge invite pressure, take shooting opportunities but can’t capitalize

Although Cavalry were definitely brave to command possession at Tim Hortons Field, Forge did invite them to do so in the first half especially.

With the two sides so familiar with one another, that was one of the tactical surprises Bobby Smyrniotis has shown a willingness to pull out occasionally — perhaps most famously, in the 2020 CPL Final against Halifax where Forge gave the ball to the counter-attacking Wanderers and forced them to try and break them down.

“We did something a little bit different today and gave up a bit of possession,” Smyrniotis said postmatch. “In the end that created opportunities for us, that created good shooting situations for us because we know a lot of times Cavalry would just hold possession behind midfield.”

This time, it did win Forge some decent — and different — attacking opportunities. With Cavalry defending in a fairly flat back five a lot of the time, there wasn’t much space for the Hammers on the edges of the penalty area so they found themselves playing it to the top of the box more often. That meant players often found themselves with a few feet of space in that area, allowing them to shoot from distance, which isn’t often a major part of Forge’s attacking game.

Béni Badibanga in particular had a few chances to go for goal at the top of the box, and he took two on target within the first 15 minutes, but he couldn’t quite beat Carducci.

Kyle Bekker, Aboubacar Sissoko, Alex Achinioti-Jönsson, Khadim Kane and — surprisingly — Dominic Samuel all took shots from outside the box, comprising seven of Forge’s 12 total attempts:

Forge’s shot map vs. Cavalry.

Ultimately, though, Forge couldn’t necessarily get the ball in the most dangerous areas within the box that they more frequently score from. They weren’t able to get the ball to centre-forward Terran Campbell for a single shot, as he was held to 19 touches — not one of them in the penalty area.

According to Smyrniotis, they had bodies in the right areas, but the execution of getting the ball there quickly wasn’t always up to par.

“We were in those spaces a lot of times,” Smyrniotis said. “They were dropping back with five at the back, that usually congests things, but maybe we weren’t making the decisive runs and getting the ball in those spaces. But then again, that gave us some good shooting lanes, which traditionally we don’t have in games…

“If you don’t score, you don’t win a game, and it’s as simple as that. Defensively I thought we were good, and that’s the one thing you always take because as you get closer to things — hopefully we’re doing the right job and playing in the playoffs, we’ll see where things end up in the standings — we know how to win games there.”

Indeed, Forge were good defensively, and limited Cavalry to just five shots and none on target. After scoring three in Vancouver last weekend they’ll be annoyed not to have continued that momentum at home, but nonetheless many of the fundamentals of their play, especially off the ball, remained solid. Player of the Match

Daan Klomp, Cavalry FC

Tommy Wheeldon Jr. called the Dutch centre-back “magnificent” postmatch, and it’s hard to disagree. Klomp was, as he usually is, the centrepiece of a very well-organized backline. He finished with 93 per cent pass accuracy, three interceptions, two clearances, and won possession three times.

What’s next?

Cavalry’s preparation for the next game begins immediately, as they head straight to Halifax for a Tuesday night clash with the Wanderers (7 p.m. AT/4 p.m. MT). Meanwhile, Forge don’t have a midweek game to worry about, as they now head to Winnipeg to take on Valour FC on Sunday, Sept. 17 (1 p.m. CT/2 p.m. ET).

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