Here we go again. It is Coach of the Year time. Or as those of us in Hamilton know it, Smyrniotis Snub Season.
So, this year the front runner is Carlos Gonzales of Atletico Ottawa, or CarGo to the hip kids in Ottawa. He took the league’s bottom feeders from last to first with only the merest of financial backing from one of Spanish Soccer’s giants to support him. And a fleet of young Atletico Madrid B studs to fill out the roster. How did he ever pull it off?!
But I digress this is not about Carlos and his massive accomplishments. It is the argument for Bobby “the Bridesmaid, never the Bride” Smyrniotis and why this should be his year.
Forge is among the best every year. As such, there is no way to create the narrative of a big change. He “took a team that was really good, and kept it really good”, is not a winning narrative.
But why isn’t it? Many have said that a professional coach’s shelf life is about 3 years. But here is Bobby headed into year four at the cool table. How is that? Isn’t it hard to get the same buy-in? To keep beating teams that have so much film on you? To find newer and newer ways to beat the dreaded Parked Bus? I would argue yes. And that is reason number one for Bobby to break his coach of the year duck. Everyone has seen Valour’s road map. Low block. Compact. Defend with your life. Take your chance. But more times than not, Bobby won, despite this. (Cheers to FC Edmonton for having nothing to lose and coming to play).
Number two on my chaotic list has to do with everyone’s biggest plus for Merriman – the other competitor (no chance) – player turnover. Merriman is heralded for sneaking into the playoffs with a team that lost two starting defenders to TFC, two more big time players to Forge, and a stud to Atletico. And let’s not forget they sold their biggest of big-time players midseason. That is impressive, I am not going to lie. But let’s look at Bobby’s team attrition. Number six on the top 50 of 2021 players was Elimane Cisse, a class midfielder who fit Bobby’s style to a T. He played every spot on the pitch but keeper, and always looked at home. Gone. Kwame Awuah, former MLS player at NYCFC and top tier player in the CPL. Gone. And who was it that turned around York down the stretch?
Sit down please Mr. Nash, it was Mo Babouli – Mr. Four Goals and Two Assists in His First Four Games. (Not my best nicknaming I admit). He ended the season on 5, which is top 20 for a guy who played about a quarter of the season. Not bad. He was Forge’s. Gone. Diyaeddine Abzi was a star and is now playing professionally in France. He was the only defender ranked higher than Daniel Krutzen on that flawed, but helpful, Top 50 list for defenders. Krutzen was injured last year just before the playoffs and Forge missed him deeply. He was gone until the stretch drive this year. Bobby keeps his core, but he loses some big names too. But recruiting is also part of a coach’s job. We should reward him for being good at it.
What is the number three reason? Forge had the best offence this year. They also had the best defence. They had an obscene goal differential as a result. How? They lost arguably their best offensive player in Mo. They gave the reins offensively to a second-year, Canadian pro in Woobens Pacius. And at the back they worked a patchwork defence that saw their best D-Mid moved out of position and playing with a rotating carousel of defenders for most of the season while the aforementioned Daniel Krutzen sat out. Their ‘keeper isn’t even top 3, (don’t get me started) yet there they were as the best defence in the CPL. That’s got to be down to coaching then, no?
But wait, there’s more. How about his coaching style? Bobby’s teams are built to play the beautiful game… beautifully. Possession stats aren’t everything, but this kind of possession football can be wonderous to watch. Games of 4-3, 5-1 (FCE) 4-0, 3-0 (HFX) versus the bottom clubs show the fun it can be. But they also let Pacific have it 3-0 at The Coffee Grounds in a game that could have been much worse. And it is one of those nights, July 31st, at Forge’s home-away-from-home, TD Place, that arguably makes the case ironically for CarGo being a top coach. In two earlier games in Hamilton, they were as close as close could be.
A 1-1 draw, and a game that maybe should have been a 0-0 draw (the only goal was a controversial, if beautifully struck, free kick with a man illegally too close to the wall). And so, as you do, AO had skillfully played for the draw on the road. But Atletico did what the big boys do at home and went for the jugular. The result was a 4-0 pasting at the hands of Bobby’s boys. Lesson learned on that bleak summer night. It was impossible to play toe-to-toe with Bobby. Do you need proof the lesson was learned? After that game, they would lose only one more game the rest of the way. They went 5-5-1 (W-L-D). But no game would ever be more than a single goal difference, except against Cavalry, who were just owned by AO (laugh here if you know how those games really went down). Bobby is not just a coach, he is a teacher, and he taught Carlos to learn his place. To Carlos’ credit, he did. (A lot of 0-0, 1-1, and 1-0s in that mix, by the way). I don’t think this is BORING as some claim, but it is a back-to-basics form of tactics. You’re welcome.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
I am not an infomercial magnate by trade, but if you read this right now, I will throw in one more reason Bobby is the CPL’s Coach of the Year! I have heard endlessly that this is a development league. From the constant raising of minimum U-20 minutes (on paper if not in practice) to a convenient way to keep salaries deflated (recognize PFACan). But when I look at the two coaches up for the award in this development league, I scratch my head. Bobby started Pacius as the out-and-out striker on this team. As a Young Player of the year nominee that is some faith. And he has some other young Canadian players getting quality minutes. Jensen, Metusala, and Poku included. Oh, and the other forwards to log the big minutes up top include Campbell, Borges, and Choiniere – who clocks in as the grizzled old veteran of that crew at 25. They may not show up on the U-20 minute’s ticker, but they are still developing. Bobby gives developing players a chance to play in the big positions up top, as well as in the defense and midfield. Only 3 teams have their top scorers as Canadians.
The ever-youthful York, the not-a-lot-of-options Wanderers and Forge. Bobby is the exact kind of coach this league touts in its pressers, they just don’t know it. And by the way, I know I wasn’t supposed to drag CarGo, but it wasn’t just AOs U-21 minutes which sputtered over the line, it was that other development. I guess you could argue they are re-developing Tabla, only 23. But their Canadian players logging big minutes are not spring chickens. Beckie, Tissot and Haworth all 30 and up. Mannella, McKendry, Wright, Aleman and Shaw all 27-29 years old. So, I guess super-sub Verhoven and Tabla are the developing players? Ok, I might be being a bit strict on who is still developing (and I don’t personally believe in developing league hooey) but give Bobby some credit.
All in all, I was writing this to tongue-and-cheekily point out that Bobby is good, if not quite deserving. But I am a very talented writer it turns out. And now I am convinced.
Bobby for CPL Coach of the Year 2022. Finally!
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