So, let’s talk Forge’s playoff run. Mediocre? Pedestrian? Underwhelming? Sure, pick one. But the bottom line is they are back in the playoffs with an outside shot at a home final. (And if they make it to the final the only team that team that could host them is Ottawa, and that’s really just another type of home game – see Atletico vs Forge all-time record in the Capital).
Let’s wrap up the season finale versus Halifax to start. What to take from this match? Well, Forge rested their most creative player in Tristan Borges to avoid a yellow card accumulation suspension. So, he should be very fresh, if not a little rusty for the two games against the Cavs. Triston Henry continues to make big saves and is rounding into playoff form, and another clean sheet is always a positive. A goal from another source, young and talented Kwasi Poku is a lift for him and the team. And Bobby’s continued rotation of the squad has kept everyone fresh (rumours suggest Krutzen will be back for the playoffs). And hey, the bottom line is Forge got the win they needed.
What were today’s negatives? Well, while the shot total was up (5 for this match), it is still far from the heady days of double-digit shots attempted we became accustomed to earlier this season. Forwards are in a funk. Choiniere’s goal against York a month ago in a losing cause was the last time anyone up top beat a ‘keeper. Yikes. I honestly, thought that Pacius was going to win the Golden Boot, but he has been frustrated in front of goal since the summer, August 2nd to be exact against Halifax. And because they were only able to put one past a rookie ‘keeper on Sunday, they gave Halifax a chance to steal a point right to the end with a set piece striking the post (credit Henry for an excellent stop, that forced it into the woodwork). So, there is still work to be done.
But really, in a game that was maybe a bit hard to get excited for (I know that should never be uttered or considered by a sports team, but…) they got the job done. Let’s move forward!
Forge will finish second for the second time (the only time they have finished lower was the Island Games when they finished third on goal differential – to the Wanderers. But we all know how that ended).
So, what do Forge have to do to get back to the top of the podium? Simple. Keep their heads and lean on their experience to beat Cavalry in a couple one-goal games. Then hope Atleti get past PFC so Forge can travel to their home away from home, TD Place. Forge have lost only once to Atletico Ottawa all-time, and that was at Tim Horton’s Field. So that would be a wonderful final. But of course, the playoffs are a different animal, and PFC had never beaten Forge before that historic night in Hamilton in the bitter cold – when they took their chance – and became champions. All kidding aside, a final against Atletico, the new kids on the block versus the grizzled veterans from Hamilton; or a re-match of last year’s final, the only two ever champions back at it again – in the Hammer; either outcome would be an amazing final from this point of view.
But something big stands in the way. The Rivalry.
Cavalry won the first ever trophy that never was – the Spring and Fall. That is now a reward, and they will posthumously, oops sorry, belatedly get their trophy celebration, (once one is actually created, though players who have moved on from that team will never hold it, sigh). But the trophy that has always been, still eludes their grasp, the beloved Microwave Plate. So surely there must be a sense of justice and/or vengeance driving this team into this playoff matchup. No one can doubt the quality this team has. They are tough defensively, capable of scoring big goals at big moments.
They are bruisers who are never afraid to leave something in a tackle, while simultaneously being masters of the darker arts, able to turn the lightest Chinook breeze into a devastating assault on their persons. But they have not won a playoff knock-out game in their short history. They lost twice to Forge in Season One’s two-legged Final, and in the final game of the Island Games second round, again Forge ended their hopes when a tie may have been enough to see them through on goal differential. (Add to that their dismissal at the hands of the eventual champions last year, PFC, and they have more playoff knock-out game losses than there are CPL seasons. Ouch!
Add to this that in all the matches these teams have played against each other, the most in league history, only one has been decided by more than one goal. That is a rivalry. All of this grows the legend. And heightens their desire to right past wrongs.
FC 13 Presents: Islands to Igloos – Ep 1. – FC13 Podcast
So, all Forge have to do is get by a team (and fan base) whose very core seems to stand in opposition to them. Yin to their Yang. One that is powered by a stable and consistent coach, a loyal support and veteran core sprinkled by newer talent as the team seems to improve every year. But will it be enough this season?
I am not an expert in strategy, formation and game-play styles by any means. But I know this two-legged tie will need one thing over all others. Composure.
Forge has shown they can do this in a variety of competitions and matches. But as they are trying to get their house in order to reclaim the championship, it would not be impossible to believe the Cavs could be the team too finally rise to the occasion. The depth of the team, big game players and proven coaching of Forge cannot be ignored though. And the mental game between these two teams is almost bigger than the physical. I would still bet on Bobby’s boys. But more a, “I promise to wear an ugly Cavs camo-top” than a “Bet the house”-type deal.
Can Forge channel their early season form back for the “second season?” Can Cavalry overcome the demons of the past? It may all just come down to who doesn’t lose their head, or their man, at an inopportune time. And what more could a soccer fan want? Well, we are greedy, so we want it all. But for Forge and Cavalry fans, that starts with victory in The Rivalry. And that is, almost, as good as it gets.
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