MATCH PREVIEW: Forge FC vs. Cavalry FC in the 2023 CanPL FINAL 🏆
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.”
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.
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.