Another day at the Coffee Grounds, another victory. Ho hum. Saturday’s professional victory over HFX Wanderers wasn’t just more of the same, however. It was something better, something bigger.
First off, there were some similarities to previous games. A Forge FC stalwart was awarded a collector’s jersey for his 100th appearance – congratulations Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson. Woobens Pacius scored. And, of course, Forge got the three points fans have started to take for granted over the last month and a half. Oh, and there was the absolute scorching sun of summer in the Golden Horseshoe beating down on the 4,000+ hearty souls who showed up in heat advisory conditions to cheer on their team (more about that later).
But what was different was, ironically, a return to the old ways. On Forge’s recent five-game winning streak (since extended to six over Halifax), the Hamilton outfit has been a swashbuckling crew, netting 16 goals with just two in reply. They have been a wonder of free-flowing footy, scoring decisively from open play. However, on Saturday, they took an early opportunity from a set piece and turned it into an unassailable advantage. Just a couple of minutes in, Pacius rose highest to deposit a Tristan Borges corner into the goal.
Now, that’s not to say that the East Coast team didn’t have chances, they did, including one that struck the crossbar. But for large portions of the game, defensive rocks like Alessandro Hojabrpour, Achinioti-Jonsson, and later Dom Samuels, turned away dangerous crosses while the fullback tandem of Ashtone Morgan and Rezart Rama blazed back and forth along the touchlines, creating as many opportunities as they snuffed out on balance.
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It was another team performance to be sure, but one in which, instead of smelling blood in the water, Forge seemed to settle into possession and shape instead, as if to save something for down the stretch. While in control, they never seemed to reach top gear, or even to want to shift into it. Now near 50-degree Celsius temperatures will do that to a team, so it was perhaps wise not to overexert in those conditions.
But perhaps it is also a sign of something else with this experienced crew. While to some it may seem like sour grapes after losing a close 2021 finals match to mention this, but Forge faded in that final game. And a heavy schedule that included CONCACAF trips and playoffs compressed into a cold, winter stretch, seemed to take a toll. Perhaps that’s why Bobby Smyrniotis’s boys have added some more firepower and are watching the recent return of Samuel, and both Johnny Grant and defensive lynchpin Daniel Krutzen, with absolute glee as they also near their return.
Forge is cruising into the second season. The rest of the league should be taking note.
Finally, as an attendee of the Forge against HFX match, I couldn’t help but gaze longingly at the opposite stand from us, as I stood in the supporter’s section, affectionately dubbed “The Bellows.” An even more apt title as it felt like the fires of hell on Saturday. But the west-side stands stood out like a shimmering oasis bathed in shade. That may have been the sun-stroke talking, but it is the hope of more than a few supporters that a move to the west, or later [cooler] start times becomes the norm in the dog days of summer going forward.
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