2023 CPL Playoffs — Final
Forge vs. Cavalry FC
October 28, 2023 at 6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT
Tim Hortons Field Hamilton, Ontario
Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca & TELUS Ch. 980 // Tickets available here
On Oct. 26, 2019, Forge FC and Cavalry FC stepped onto the pitch at Tim Hortons Field to kick off the opening leg of the inaugural CPL Final.
On Saturday, four years and two days later, the two bitter rivals return to Hamilton for the league’s fifth final. The format of the final has changed from 2019, with this one being a single-game winner-take-all event. The reward is also brand new as the league unveiled the North Star Cup on Thursday night at its awards show. The intensity of the contests between these two sides has never changed over the years, however, and more of the same can be expected in the 2023 Final.
Forge versus Cavalry, regardless of circumstance, is always a heavyweight tilt, played out between the league’s two most dominant sides since its inception, and overseen by its two most successful managers: Bobby Smyrniotis and Tommy Wheeldon Jr. This will be their 26th meeting, with a stunning 23 of the previous 25 being decided by either a single goal or ending in a draw, showing how fine the margins have been between the two sides over the years.
After finishing second place during the regular season, Forge earned their spot in the CPL Final, as well as the right to host it, by defeating Cavalry in the first vs. second place match two weeks ago. It was the sixth time that Forge and Cavalry have met in the postseason in CPL history. Cavalry are still winless in those meetings, with five losses and a draw.
“Those losses serve as learning moments if you choose to use it that way,” said Wheeldon Jr. “We used the loss again Forge to learn from it, and put in a better performance again Pacific. I think the lads now just want to enjoy the moment tomorrow, and turn up, and show up, and back up the reputation that they have rightfully earned.”
RELATED: 3 reasons why Forge FC will win the 2023 CPL Final || 3 reasons why Cavalry FC will win the 2023 CPL Final
Those past losses against Forge include both legs of the 2019 final, the start of the Hamilton side’s dynasty. Saturday will be their fifth straight CPL finals appearance in the league’s five years. They are three-time champions, including last year’s final in Ottawa.
On the other hand, Saturday’s match will be Cavalry’s first CPL Finals appearance since that 2019 meeting. They had to go the long way to secure a rematch with Forge, as their loss to open the Hamilton side postseason meant they needed to take care of business against Pacific in the semifinal this past Saturday. They did so in emphatic fashion, however, as the result of their 2-1 victory at ATCO Field did not entirely tell the story of a dominant performance. It was also, stunningly, the first time in club history that they had won a playoff knockout match.
Saturday, however, will bring new history, regardless of who wins. For Cavalry, it is not only a chance to win their first CPL final, but also to become the first club in league history to do the double, as both regular season winners and playoff champions. Forge, meanwhile, are looking to become the first side to win a CPL Final at home, with all four previous finals being won away from home.
“We had an ability to do it in 2021, and that remains in the minds of a lot of the players that were here then, playing in that game,” said Smyrniotis of Forge’s lone playoff loss, which came in the 2021 final at home at Tim Hortons Field. “Most importantly for me, I know the joy that it could give to our fans.”
Home hasn’t always been an outright advantage for Forge this season, however. They won just four of 14 matches played at Tim Hortons Field during the regular season, tied for second fewest in the league this season, with the least points collected (19) at home in the club’s history.
The two meetings between the Forge and Cavalry at Tim Hortons Field this season ended in a draw, 2-2 in their opening fixture of the season, and then 0-0 on Sept. 9. In the five meetings this year between the regular season and playoffs, the 12 goals scored between the two sides have had 11 different goalscorers, with Forge’s Jordan Hamilton the only player to score twice. Each side has won once, with three ending in a draw.
RELATED: 5 Forge FC players who may decide the 2023 CPL Final || 5 Cavalry FC players who may decide the 2023 CPL Final
Should the sides remain deadlocked after 90 minutes once again, there will be two 15-minute halves of extra time, played to their completion regardless of the score. If proceedings remain tied thereafter, the two sides will advance to a penalty shootout.
Over the years, penalties have not been particularly kind to either side. Forge had their first-ever win on penalties in their fourth time of trying, earlier this year against Atlético Ottawa in the Canadian Championship in an ugly set of spot-kicks that resulted in a chaotic 3-2 win in the shootout. Cavalry, meanwhile, have lost both of their penalty shootouts in club history, including to Pacific earlier this year in the Canadian Championship.
Bobby Smyrniotis confirmed that Forge will be without joint-leading goalscorer Woobens Pacius, who scored ten times this season, due to injury. Pacius also missed the first versus second place match against Cavalry, and will be a big miss as he is tied with David Choinière for most goals in CPL playoff history.
A big key in Cavalry FC’s success this season has been their ability to stay healthy and they are expected to go into the CPL Final with a full complement of players available.
All CPL matches are available to stream on OneSoccer, FuboTV, or on TELUS Optik TV Channel 980.
3 THINGS TO WATCH
- The opening goal will be a game-changer: Any goal in a final is a massive moment, but the opening goal in Saturday’s match could have a particular influence on the final result. In 21 Canadian Premier League postseason matches, including the Group Stage of the 2020 Island Games, the club that has scored first has never lost (18 wins, three draws). In fact, the opening goal scored in each of the previous four CPL finals (including the two-legged 2019 final) has stood as the winner. Cavalry have made a habit of opening the scoring this season, doing so in 25 of 31 matches in all competitions in 2023, including in three of five meetings with Forge this season. Forge, meanwhile, have struggled to open the scoring, especially at home this year, scoring first in just three of 14 matches at Tim Hortons Field, conceding the opening goal nine times. They, however, have made a habit of getting themselves back into matches this season, even when they do allow the first goal, with a league-best 17 points gained from losing positions during the regular season.
- Set pieces will be critical: When a player is standing over a free kick, or a corner kick on Saturday, it is worth paying extra attention. Set pieces have historically played a big role in past CPL finals. The last two winning goals, both scored by Alessandro Hojabrpour, have come from crosses played into the box from free kicks, while the winning goal in the 2020 final, scored by Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson came courtesy of the second phase of a corner kick. Cavalry have long been known as the set piece kings of the Canadian Premier League, with the impressive work done by technical director and assistant coach Leon Hapgood and head of analysis Daniel Hutchings on attacking set pieces has been well documented. All three of Cavalry’s goals in the 2023 postseason have come from set plays. However, in the 1st vs. 2nd match to open the 2023 postseason, it was Forge who opened the scoring against Cavalry from a corner kick. Expect both sides to put a heavy emphasis on these going into the final.
- Can Cavalry FC get another big game performance from their big players?: Ahead of Cavalry’s semifinal against Pacific FC, manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. challenged his key players to step up, saying that it was the perfect time for his multiple award-nominated players to prove they were worthy of those honours. He unquestionably got a response. Player of the Year and Defender of the Year Daan Klomp scored the opener, set up by Players’ Player of the Year Ali Musse who then scored the winner himself, while Golden Glove nominee Marco Carducci made a game-saving stop in the final few minutes to secure the win. In knockout matches in the past, Cavalry have been missing game-breaking performances, and they will undoubtedly require them to be difference makers in the final as well. Forge, meanwhile, have had big contributions from their difference makers over the years, particularly in this fixture. Captain Kyle Bekker has scored seven times and had the winner a few weeks ago in the 1st vs. 2nd match, and added two assists. David Choinière, meanwhile, has scored four goals against Cavalry FC at Tim Hortons Field alone, including last year’s semifinal second leg.
PROJECTED STARTING XIs
Forge FC: T.Henry; Rama, James, Achinioti-Jönsson, Poku; Hojabrpour, Bekker, Jensen; Badibanga, Borges, Campbell
Cavalry FC: Carducci; Shome, Kobza, Klomp, Kamdem; Camargo, Daley, Trafford, Akio; Musse, Bevan
Forge FC wins: 11 || Cavalry FC wins: 7 || Draws: 7
Oct. 14, 2023 — Cavalry FC 1-2 Forge FC
2019 CPL Finals – Leg 1 — Forge FC 1-0 Cavalry FC
2019 CPL Finals – Leg 2 — Cavalry FC 0-1 Forge FC (0-2 agg.)
2020 CPL Island Games – Group Stage — Cavalry FC 0-1 Forge FC
2022 CPL Semifinals – Leg 1 — Cavalry FC 1-1 Forge FC
2022 CPL Semifinals – Leg 2 — Forge FC 2-1 Cavalry FC (3-2 agg.)
2023 1st vs. 2nd match — Cavalry FC 1-2 Forge FC
Referee: Marie-Soleil Beaudoin
ARs: Peter Pendli, Gérard-Kader Lebuis
4th Official: Scott Bowman
“When you look at the games [against Cavalry] I think the competitive nature of the games have been very good because you have two teams that one, want to win, and two really don’t like losing. I think that’s what brings out the best in those matches that we have seen, this year in different matches, and different playoff games. So I expect to see the same thing [on Saturday]. We’ve played two weeks ago in their home, I think it was an excellent match from both teams, good tactical stuff on both sides and that’s the bigger thing that we focus on. Because it is a moment in the game, you can be the better team and you know in these types of games you may not walk out with a trophy. You could also not be the better one and walk out. But one thing we know is the storyline after, they will never remember what happened in the game, they will only remember who is the champion.” — Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis
“Forge has been playing in second and third gear most of the season, it’s true, most of the season we were in the third gear. But, when we have to go into fifth, it is a pretty good gear to have, so that’s what we want to be able to see tomorrow. That usually dictates how the games will go for us.” — Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis
“I think sometimes you need rivalries like what we have with [Forge] to inspire us to be better. I think this year win the league by the manner in which we did, a large part of it is we had to be better than them. We were for 28 games of the season.” — Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.
“We keep receipts. We use them as opportunities to prove people wrong, and what we will do now, it is a tall order, we have never beat Forge in a playoff game. But we have beat them in a Canadian Championship doubleheader, we have beat them in regular seasons and we have beat them here, all we need is one game. Pa-Modou Kah had never beaten Forge until the final. Finals are different. We’ve had enough reps at them to get it right tomorrow.” — Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.