HAMILTON – Who has the edge going into Leg 2 of the Canadian Premier League Finals?
Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis and his Cavalry FC counterpart Tommy Wheeldon Jr. were both hyping their team’s chances after Saturday’s opening leg which saw Forge earn a slim 1-0 win at Tim Hortons Field via Tristan Borges’ first-half goal.
Forge holds the advantage in this aggregate series, as a draw next week in Calgary will see them win Finals 2019. Cavalry, on the other hand, needs to win by at least two goals in regulation time.
If Cavalry leads 1-0 at the end of regulation next week, the game will go directly to a penalty shootout, so the pressure is squarely on the shoulders of Wheeldon’s players, especially as they’ll be at home.
But it’s not quite straight-forward for Forge, as Borges, the league’s top scorer, picked up a red card on Saturday, which means he’ll be suspended for Leg 2 at ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows.
Despite the loss – and despite a red card to defender Joel Waterman that will see him suspended for Leg 2 – Wheeldon took Saturday’s result in stride, and is confident Cavalry can overturn the deficit next Saturday in Calgary.
“We have a saying around our club about adapting and overcoming. (It’s not) the best scenario to be in, but we’re still in the tie. We can take (this result) back to Spruce Meadows and get that rocking. We’re disappointed to lose but we know we’ve got a chance at home,” Wheeldon told reporters after Saturday’s loss.
Wheeldon also felt that Forge let his team off the hook on Saturday, and that Cavalry could be facing a much larger deficit due to Forge’s wastefulness. Indeed, Forge carried the bulk of the play in Leg 1, and carved out the majority of the scoring chances, hitting the woodwork three times.
But Borges failed to convert a penalty after Waterman was sent off in the first half, and the home side only managed one goal on the day, failing to take full advantage of their statistical domination.
“One-goal games are okay to swing. We know we’ll score goals at home. That was their chance to really put us out of the tie, and they didn’t take it,” Wheeldon stated.
He later added: “We score at home a lot. We’re very good at home, and our goal scoring record has showed that. We’re looking forward to making that happen.”
Wheeldon believes Cavalry can score the two goals in Leg 2 that they need to win the series. He also thinks the loss of the suspended Borges is a big blow for Forge.
“Borges is a terrific player, but he has an edge to him. He’s talented, but he plays with an edge, and today he got caught out with it. He also cut us open with his tremendous strike… Does (his absence) give us advantage? Absolutely. Can you take (captain Kyle) Bekker with him as well, and we’ll be alright,” Wheeldon joked.
Losing a player the calibre of Borges isn’t a laughing matter for Smyrniotis, although Forge’s coach believes his team can overcome the absence of their top forward in Calgary.
“It’s something we’ve dealt with over the year, with different players,” Smyrniotis explained.
“We don’t look at what we can’t control, we always look at what we can control – and what we can control is we’ve got good depth in our team. We’ve got guys who step up in different occasions and different roles. …We’re confident in the guys and in our tactical flexibility to go into (Leg 2) and be prepared.”
There’s more reasons for Forge to be optimistic ahead of their trip to Alberta. Cavalry boasted the best home record in the CPL over the entire regular season, suffering just one loss at ATCO Field. But that setback was against, you guessed it, Forge. The Hamilton-based side earned a 1-0 win on June 22.
If Forge can duplicate their performance in Leg 1 next week on the road, Smyrniotis thinks his side can again emerge victorious.
“We’re happy. We took the game to them for the better part of 90 minutes… We hit three crossbars, we were all over them and it’s the second time we’ve done that playing them here,” Smyrniotis stated.