MATCH ANALYSIS: Forge, Cavalry trade blows in sizzling opener at Tim Hortons Field
Canadian Premier League

Final Score: Forge FC 2-2 Cavalry FC
Goalscorers: Hamilton 41′ (Pen.), Jensen 76′; Bevan 36′, Cantave 64′
Game of the 2023 season: 3
CPL match: 369

Match in a minute or less

Champions Forge FC met foes Cavalry at Tim Hortons Field in both sides’ first encounter of 2023, and there was no shortage of fireworks as they split the points in a 2-2 draw. Cavalry took the lead twice, once in each half thanks to Myer Bevan and Miki Cantave (the latter being an absurd strike from 25 yards), but both times Forge returned to level terms within minutes, as Jordan Hamilton scored from the spot and Noah Jensen netted a powerful strike with 15 minutes to go.

Three Observations

Forge tenacity, aggression helps them battle back twice

There’s a certain inevitability about Forge FC; rarely are they ever held off the scoresheet (in fact, it’s happened just once in their last 10 games). Such was the feeling in their home opener on Saturday; even in the early stages when Cavalry had the better share of chances, Forge were still generating enough transitional opportunities to suggest they’d find a way through eventually.

The Hammers showed an ability to shift gears, trailing for a total of 17 minutes despite falling behind twice. Of course, Bobby Smyrniotis would have preferred his side not to concede as they did, but the way they responded both times proved they continue to be one of the CPL’s most dangerous sides.

Forge’s two responses were also somewhat different; in the first half, knowing they had plenty of time left, they continued to look for transitional opportunities that had proven dangerous earlier in the game, and it was a long ball into Jordan Hamilton that led to the penalty kick. The second time around, with finer margin for error in the second half, the Forge bench reacted immediately — Smyrniotis brought Woobens Pacius, Terran Campbell and Ashtone Morgan into the game just a few minutes after conceding.

From there, they pushed more methodically forward, buzzing around the Cavalry area and sent dangerous crossed into the box. Their second equalizer seemed to come straight off the training pitch: Alessandro Hojabrpour deliberately drove to the end line and cut it back over the top, skipping off a defensive limb and finding Noah Jensen perfectly positioned to smash home.

“You play the game to score goals, so it’s not something that fazes us for the ball to go in the back of our net,” Smyrniotis quipped postmatch.

“It’s just leaving that to the side and getting back to what we need to do. Both of those goals come from a bit of a down period of ours, and I think that’s something we need to look at. That’s the beauty of these first games of the season.”

HAMILTON, ONTARIO, CANADA/ Canadian Premier League/ Apr.15th, 2023/ Jojo Yanjiao Qian/Forge FC

Cavalry front four spreads pitch, creates multi-faceted attack

Joe Mason and Myer Bevan started together just once in CPL play for Cavalry last season. This year, that may be a more regular feature, as the two forwards both appeared in the XI on matchday one.

Bevan played as the out-and-out number nine on Saturday with Mason dropping deeper behind him, while Miki Cantave and Ali Musse patrolled the left and right wings, respectively. With coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. looking for ways to make his team’s attack more potent, this option helps Cavalry get more of their best attacking players on the pitch — particularly with natural winger José Escalante dropping into the fullback spot.

The result was that Cavalry’s attack became far more varied and dangerous from multiple areas. In possession, they often looked to play from midfield out to the wingers — Musse especially — and both wide players were keen to take on the opposing fullbacks to either beat them or draw them in and play the ball to the underlapping Escalante and Roberto Alarcón.

Mason’s dropping back was effective in getting him more involved in the creative side, and the fact he was sitting further back at the top of the box allowed him to bring down Musse’s cross, leading to Bevan’s goal as the primary forward runner. Moments later, he again nearly scored but his top-of-the-box shot took a deflection over the bar.

“That’s where Joe’s played the majority of his career,” Wheeldon said about Mason’s deeper role. “He knows where the goal is, and today even the goal was putting it toward the net and Myer played off him well. They’re good mates, as [Cantave]’s good mates with [Musse], and you can see that connection comes out on the pitch. I thought they were good as an attacking diamond, but they’ve just got to stay fit together because that’s how chemistry grows.”

HAMILTON, ONTARIO, CANADA/ Canadian Premier League/ Apr.15th, 2023/ Jojo Yanjiao Qian/Forge FC

Second-year pro Jensen looks at home again in tough midfield role

There’s no replacing Kyle Bekker. The Forge captain remains one of the CPL’s best players, and there’s no doubt he’ll be in the lineup every game he’s able to. However, with the skipper suspended for this opening match, 23-year-old Noah Jensen slotted seamlessly into midfield — much as he did in the 2022 CPL Final.

Jensen finished the game with a team-high 90.2 per cent passing accuracy, and three chances created. He won four duels, and also made a tackle and a clearance despite playing in a fairly advanced midfield role. Jensen was tasked with covering a lot of ground, often drifting to the wide areas to allow both David Choinière and Tristan Borges to show for passes in the half-spaces.

The goal he scored — the third of his professional career, two of them being smashed strikes from distance — was very well taken, and it was evidence of Jensen’s intelligence and understanding of Forge’s identity that he found himself in such a dangerous pocket of space and read the ball in the air to hit it so well.

“I thought today he was excellent with his ball movement, and not only that but his penetrating dribbles through the middle of the park, just being able to provide for us,” Smyrniotis said of Jensen.

“We know when he’s given a little bit of space anywhere in and around the penalty area, either right or left foot, he’s got the shot … Kyle Bekker, our captain, is out of the lineup today, and he’s always somebody that you’ll miss in certain games like this, but [Jensen] stepped in and he’s done an excellent job, and will continue to do that this season.”

Forge will, of course, be happy to have perennial MVP candidate Bekker back next game, but Jensen continuing to develop as an excellent option in midfield — and perhaps a successor when the captain does eventually move on — is encouraging. Indeed, the depth of Forge’s midfield, with Bekker and Jensen joined by Aboubacar Sissoko and Alessandro Hojabrpour, gives them four players who could all start for any team in the CPL. Therefore, Smyrniotis has the luxury of perhaps rotating the quartet through his usual three midfield positions.

“I think last year it was more about learning for me,” Jensen said after the game. “I was finding my footing as a pro and taking as much information on board as I could. This is a year for me to prove myself, and I got off on the right foot today.”

Bekker and Jensen only started in three matches together last year; both players’ ability to cover ground could give Forge a formidable option in games where they need to spread the pitch and create space for one another. Player of the Match

Noah Jensen, Forge FC

As mentioned, the young midfielder delivered a tremendously mature, composed performance, occupying dangerous spaces in the attacking half and distributing the ball to facilitate attacking play. He also delivered a few dangerous balls from set-pieces and, of course, scored the second equalizer for Forge.

What’s next?

Both sides now turn their attention to the Canadian Championship. Forge will remain at Tim Hortons Field, where they’ll host PLSQ champions FC Laval on Tuesday, April 18 (7 p.m. ET). Cavalry, meanwhile, head west to Vancouver Island to play Pacific FC on Thursday, April 20 (7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET).

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