AGR's High Press: How the midseason signing of Béni Badibanga instigated Forge's turnaround
There was no shortage of drama across the CPL this weekend.
After matchday 22, where three of the six games finished in draws, matchday 23 more than made up for that by providing four winners from the four games that were played, further shaking up an already chaotic table.
Yet, on a weekend with goals, lead changes, late winners and more, it was exactly the sort of matchday that was perfect for the neutral, as the playoff picture started to really take shape.
Speaking of, there were some more updates on that front this week - Pacific have now become the second team to clinch a playoff spot, while Vancouver was the first team eliminated from the playoff race.
But with just three matchdays left on the schedule, it’s that time of the year now, so the next few weeks should be quite exciting on that front, as we’ll see how the last three spots will be divided up. From there, playoff matchups will also start to take shape, too, adding further layers to the current race, especially given the new playoff system.
All of that to say - there’s a lot going on right now, yet that’s why this is often the best time of the season.
On that note, however, here’s a look at what stood out from the most recent matchday of CPL action in this week’s “High Press”.
Midseason signing paying off for Forge:
Despite having only made one signing last offseason, bringing in Manjrekar James, Forge entered this season as favourites to win both the regular season and playoff title.
Having won their third North Star Shield last year, that they’d done well to retain most of their roster was seen as a huge plus, as many expected them to build off that.
Safe to say, that hasn’t fully gone to plan this year. Forge are certainly in a good position to chase a fourth North Star Shield, no doubt - they can clinch a playoff spot with a win this weekend, and you’d never doubt them in the playoffs - but they’re all but out of the regular season title race barring a miracle.
Yet, they’re trending in the right direction right now, as their win over Valour this weekend was their sixth straight game without defeat (2W-4D-0L), and their second win in their last three games.
And a big reason for that? Another signing, Béni Badibanga, who was brought in this summer to add depth to a squad that had been hit by injury, which was also adding to their woes.
Despite having to step into a veteran team with some of the best players in the league, Badibanga hasn’t missed a beat, as the veteran with over 100 appearances in the Belgian top flight has shown his quality right away.
Already, he’s become a focal point in the attack, and this latest weekend was a key example of how. Despite being on a team with set-piece specialists Kyle Bekker and Tristan Borges, Badibanga was the one who stepped up to take a late free kick for Forge in the 84th minute against Valour, and he put it away to secure a late win for their team.
His second free-kick goal since his arrival, it’s just a glimpse of what he can do when given the ball, as his combination of skill and combination has immediately made him one to watch.
And it’s helping Forge out, as in the seven games he’s featured in since signing, Forge has lost just one game - the only match he hasn’t started since then.
Because of that, look for him to become a key catalyst for Forge as they chase more silverware this fall. If there was a midseason signing of the summer award, Badibanga would certainly be up there (shout out to William Akio and Alberto Zapater), and he’ll now look to continue to bring his spark to their offence.
Especially given that he’s already shown a flair for the dramatic moments (both of his free-kick goals came late in matches, with one rescuing a draw and the other a win), they’ll want to rely on that clutch gene as the big games approach, adding another element of danger to an already good Forge side.
Halifax Wanderers get back on track in dramatic home win:
It was a potentially season-defining game for the Halifax Wanderers.
Having dropped points in three straight games, the Wanderers knew they couldn’t really afford to drop many more points as they got set to face Atlético Ottawa at home on Monday.
Especially as they faced off against an Ottawa side tied with them in the standings, also making it a six-point game, it added to the importance of that home clash for the Wanderers.
Given that they hadn’t beaten a fellow top-six side since July 30th, with a record of 0W-2D-3L in the five games they’d played against top-six opposition since, they were also looking to avoid giving more points away to direct competitors, too.
Because of that, it only adds context to why the Wanderers' win over Ottawa was so crucial for the Wanderers, which was only reflected in their jubilant post-game celebrations.
They were made to work for the win - Ottawa even grabbed a 91st-minute equalizer that seemed to all but guarantee both sides would split the points - but then the Wanderers showed their resilience by then grabbing a 92nd-minute winner through Tomas Giraldo.
And now, thanks to that, they now sit in a position they would’ve never imagined they’d be in at this stage of the campaign - they can potentially clinch a playoff spot this weekend.
🚨GOAL⚓️⚓️— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 18, 2023
What a ball from Lorenzo Callegari🔥
He finds Jordan Perruzza with a perfect pass over the top, and he makes no mistake on the premium service to make it 2-1 for @HFXWanderersFC over Ottawa
Something they’d do with a win and a York United loss, which is not unrealistic as Halifax plays last-place Vancouver and York plays first-place Cavalry, it could allow them to officially complete the remarkable turnaround they’ve been working on all season long.
Yet, this Ottawa game just shows how far they’ve come as a team, as they continue to grow as a group.
This time, they had to show a bit of resilience, as they conceded the first goal at home, forcing them to have to come back. Something that they’d actually not done all season long - they’d never trailed in any of their previous eight wins - it showed good character from Patrice Gheisar’s side.
Especially against a side like Ottawa, who typically doesn’t give up much when leading, that’s even more impressive.
But that’s a credit to how Halifax tackled this challenge. Instead of letting their heads sink, they stepped up, especially from an individual standpoint.
Sometimes to win, you need your best players to step up, and Halifax got that. Just look at their first two goals - key orchestrator, Aidan Daniels, found the influential Massimo Ferrin to give his team some life. Then, their heartbeat in midfield, Lorenzo Callegari, put a dime on the head of Jordan Perruzza for that second.
Then, in the end, a new hero emerged, as Giraldo secured the late victory with a timely finish, also showing that you sometimes need your depth to step up in key moments.
Speaking of depth, however, that’ll now be the challenge that awaits the Wanderers over their last three games - U21 Canadian minutes, of which Giraldo is one of their eligible players.
As of writing, Halifax now needs 547 such minutes across three games to reach the 2000-minute threshold, which is the equivalent of over six 90-minute games. Having accumulated less than 10 such minutes in their game against Ottawa, it’s left a big hole, one they’ll now need to scramble to fill.
Because of that, it’ll be intriguing to see what approach the Wanderers take to go about tackling that.
Do they try to get playoff qualification out of the way this weekend, and then go kids-heavy the last few games? Do they try to balance it across the three games? Or do they get it out of the way now and then finish with veterans?
Especially given that they played Vancouver and Valour in their last two games, there are definitely opportunities to get those U21 Canadians on the field, but with both of those games being on the road, where they’ve got just one win all year, it won’t be easy to go younger and still claim all three points.
Yet, that’s the lone worry with this Halifax side at the moment. They continue to play fun, free-flowing soccer, they’ve had some key individual performances that will get recognized in the end-of-season awards, and can provide some drama, but they now need to make sure that these Canadian U21 minutes don’t sink them.
Given that they’re now *this* close to completing their remarkable turnaround from last year, despite having a new coach and a heavily turned-over roster, it would be a big frustration if that’s what slows them down.
One thing’s for sure, however - a steady dose of Giraldo, Tiago Coimbra, Armaan Wilson, Aiden Rushenas, Ethan Schilte-Brown and Kimani Stewart-Baynes should be on the menu across these three games, as they try to balance their U21 minute requirements with booking a ticket to the big dance for the first time since the Island Games.
York’s worrying home form puts them on the brink of missing playoffs:
You can take your pick in terms of what to be worried about with York United right now. How about their defence, which has conceded 42 goals in 25 games? Or their continued battle to get Canadian U21 minutes? Or how about their inconsistent offence, which has scored the fewest goals in the top six?
Despite all of that, however, arguably the biggest worry of them all? Their home form.
With their heavy loss to Pacific this past weekend, they’re now on the precipice of having historically bad home form, too - they currently have 11 points in 12 home games on the season. For context, the lowest anyone has had is 14 (Valour, 2019), which York cannot beat if they lose any of their last two home games.
In a league with so much travel, that’s had a tough effect on York’s playoff hopes, as it’s usually unheard of to be even close to the playoffs when you’re not picking up points at home. To their credit, they’ve also made up some ground on the road - their 21 points from 13 games is among the best in the league, but if anything, that just makes their home record even more frustrating.
Yet, the biggest reason behind their struggles at home? A lack of goals. Certainly, the defence has been a worry, but they’ve also only conceded two more goals at home than they have on the road (22 to 20), so it’s not a huge difference-maker.
Offensively, however, they’ve scored 22 goals on the road, and just 10 at home, meaning that they’re averaging less than a goal per game at home.
No matter how you slice it, it’s going to be tough to win many games when doing that, especially when you factor in the defensive side of things.
As seen when they head out on the road, they’ve been able to outscore some of those defensive struggles, but that has not been the case at home.
Because of that, while they’ll need to clean things up defensively at home across their last two games (especially after conceding seven in their last two), finding goals has to be a priority.
With back-to-back home games coming up against Cavalry and Ottawa (ironically, two of the only three teams they’ve beaten at home this year), they’ve got a good chance to make up for some of their home woes.
Especially given that they take on Vancouver on the road in their last game of the season, they’ll want to head into that match with a chance of still making the playoffs, but that won’t happen if they keep dropping points.
Sitting just one point out of the playoff race, York still has everything to play for, but now, they’ll need to make up for a disastrous start to this crucial four-game homestand, as they look to avoid some unwanted history.
🚨GOAL🔱🔱🔱🔱@Pacificfccpl can't stop scoring, as David Brazão has now made it 4-0 over York, thanks to Ayman Sellouf's league-leading 8th assist of the #CanPL season— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 17, 2023
Player of the Week: Steffen Yeates
It was a tough choice this week, but ultimately Yeates takes it after his strong showing against York for Pacific, where he nabbed an assist as part of a complete performance in midfield.
Quietly, he’s really emerged as a key piece in Pacific’s midfield, giving them a different look at the #8 position, especially on the ball. Because of that, keep an eye on the midfield combination of him, Manny Aparicio and Sean Young, which Pacific might keep rolling out based on their two showings together over the last week.
Goal of the Week: Renan Garcia
Ever since he slammed his first shot in the CPL on the crossbar from well outside of the box on his debut, it’s felt like Renan Garcia was due to score a worldie at some point this season.
Unfortunately, it came in a losing cause for Vancouver, but it shouldn’t take away from the sweet hit that it was, as he put his foot through the ball, beating a good goalkeeper in Marco Carducci clean with his power.
If you’re Vancouver, you’ve got to keep letting Garcia shoot if that’s what he’s got in his arsenal.
🚨GOAL🦅#CanPL BANGERS ONLY!— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 16, 2023
What a hit from @vanfootballclub's Renan Garcia, who finds the net from WELL downtown, cutting Cavalry's lead to 2-1 late on
You Gotta See This: Late Drama at the Grounds
Anytime you’ve got two goals in added time of a match, you know it’s a classic, and Halifax’s game against Ottawa was no exception.
From the pain of giving up the late Sam Salter goal (especially given that he’s a former Wanderer!), to the joy of Giraldo’s winner on the ensuing attack, it’s safe to say that this is one that Halifax fans won’t soon forget, especially if they now make the playoffs.
🚨GOAL⚓️⚓️⚓️— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 19, 2023
More late drama at the Wanderers Grounds!
Just moments after Ottawa made it 2-2, @HFXWanderersFC have found a potential LATE winner through Thomas Giraldo
What I’m Watching This Week: Forge vs. Pacific
With Pacific in second and Forge in third, this could very well decide who ends up playing in the crucial 1v2 playoff game (and thus earning a shot at hosting the final and two shots of making it) versus finishing in that third or fourth spot (and having a far tougher road to the final), making it a huge game for both teams.
Plus, with both teams still in the regular season title race, it could make things interesting at the top if a draw is avoided in this one, too, especially if Cavalry loses to York.
Because of that, this should end up being a very good game, as they always seem to be as of late.
Two of the deepest and most tactically versatile teams in the CPL, games between the two always end up being a battle, and this one should be no exception.