Watching warm-ups before the game, both sides looked the same. Loose and confident. But the reality set in when you peeked a little closer, the picture came into focus.
Ottawa has struggled to start the season. And seems to be getting worse. With draws against Wanderers and Valour followed up by a loss to an undermanned York and finally, what my Nan would have called a “good hiding” from Pacific. Their strings were strung just a little tighter, one had to think.
Contrast that with two early draws against Cavalry and the Wanderers for Forge in games that many were expecting more from. But they were both resilient comebacks. Then they went to the Isle to beat a tough Pacific side. And finally, a competent win at YLS versus a pesky York side (still undermanned). Despite a lack of earth-shattering results Forge’s 2-2-0 record sees them at the top of the table in CPL play, and enjoying their best ever start to a season.
Based on league play you’d think this one would be a forgone conclusion. But wait. Ottawa is here in Hamilton tonight because they have already found success once this year in this tournament, 3-1 over HFX. (Here because of that and an infamous clerical error).
Yes this is the romance of the cup. The league doesn’t matter tonight. This is the road to being Champions of Canada.
The Game Is On
The early minutes were a little sloppy, but chances started to fall Forge’s way. A free Campbell header off a Rama cross. Then Melvin makes a big save early on Bekker off a lovely cross got the hearts pumping. The play continued mostly as one way traffic.
But a couple chances on the counter came from Forge errors. A chance on the volley, unmarked for Ollie, went high. Then it was a free header from Shaw that Henry was alert to.
The field definitely started to slant in favour of the home side after that with the theme remaining a lack of finish. Going into the half all square was not indicative of the play on the pitch, but you have to finish chances at this level. So tied it was.
The second half was more of the same right off the hop. Sissoko had a big chance with a well-struck ball from just outside the box that was spilled into a dangerous spot for a rebound. Woobens Pacius was uncharacteristically off the mark on a header from a beautiful Bekker corner (one of the few not part of a short corner routine). And at one point the keeper for ATO was lost at sea. But again, Forge couldn’t finish. The killer instinct still lacking from last year’s top scoring team Forge FC.
Time-wasting became ATO’s theme. A lot of extra caution around injuries, s low throw-ins and ‘keeper game management all became more apparent.
Finally, it was Bekker with a moment of magic off an Achinioti-Jonsson pass. Fitting that the Captain should get the team on the board. As he pointed out later in the post-game press conference, tongue firmly in cheek, he is known for his fleet-footedness, so Achinioti-Jonsson unlocking him on a blazing run was no surprise. The angle and the room to score were not optimal, but Bekker smashed home with aplomb on the run. With the run of play the way it was, mission accomplished, right?
But it was the aforementioned lack of ruthlessness that would bite them late. A one goal lead is tenuous at best. A late penalty to Manjrekar James gave Ollie the only chance he needed. And he took it.
Atletico’s dark arts looked like they might come back to haunt them with 6 minutes of injury time added, but it was not to be. In fact, there was to be one more shot at glory for Atleti as Sam Salter had the chance to chip Henry. But Forge’s best player on the night extended every millimetre possible to make a game saving stop at the death that twisted and turned his body but got the desired result – despite a lack of style points perhaps.
And so the game progressed to the nightmare Forge fans fear to finish a Cup game, penalties.
None of the locals want to recall Hamilton’s history from the spot. Exciting as heck, but never the way they wanted it to end. Would this time be different?
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
Malcolm Shaw steps up. Henry stops number one. Advantage Forge
Borges post. Back to square one.
Ottawa again, Basset’s second time at the spot in this game. He finds the post. Advantage Forge again.
Jensen, keeps it that way…barely.
Henry…again! This time Salter stopped.
Pacius blazes over! It is a game again. (That killer instinct still missing – even here).
Ottawa’s dos Santos scores with Henry off the line early anyway.
AAJ so cool. Like preternaturally cool. Forge in charge.
Ottawa so smoothly responds. It’s into the corner from Singh.
And then it was all up to Hamilton…namesake of the city, to create a little history. But he is stopped! The strikers not getting it done for Forge.
And so with ATO given life, they immediately gave it back another blaze over the goal, this time from Verhoven.
So with the weight of the world on his shoulders Sissoko steps to the spot with advancement resting on his right boot. And he dispatches the game-winning penalty with assuredness. Forge is in the semi-finals of the Canadian Championship.
The After Party
It had a bit of everything. A composed and confident host controlling large portions of the game. A focused visiting side using the little game management tricks needed at the home of a favoured foe. Chances off the counter. Passes picking locks. Goals from your biggest stars. Clutch saves when they were needed most, on both sides.
These kind of nights are a beautiful prologue to what is building in Canada right now. Soak it all in. These early days. These memories. This history.
Penalties are still a cruel way to decide a team’s fate. But at least in Hamilton, on this night, they were a little less cruel.
Now on to Montreal.
* Bonus Quote: Bobby pointed out that despite all of these do-or-die games coming so fast and so early in the season, that at Forge they are building, “…a squad for longevity.” So this team is a next man up, ring the changes, be ready-to- play-any-day type of team. And with that mentality this season will be another very interesting one on all fronts.
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