YORK LIONS STADIUM, TORONTO – Backed by a boisterous Barton Battalion, Forge FC got back to big-time winning ways by destroying York United 4-0 on the road. A hat trick from the Canadian Premier League’s all-time leading scorer, Terran Campbell, set them up for a big win. Tristan Borges added another that took a deflection off unlucky Brem Soumaoro. Undeniably though, the supporters made York Lions Stadium the equivalent of Tim Hortons Field, pushing their team all the way to victory.
“Yeah, it means a lot to us,” Campbell said of the Forge faithful making the trip. “I think having fans always brings life into the game, so to have our fans travel and come to an away game, it means a lot to us as players.”
The hat-trick for Campbell wasn’t the only reason why he earned mighty applause. Between him, Borges, and Jordan Hamilton, Forge dominated in attack, constantly winning the ball in midfield. Kyle Bekker often played a big role centrally in doing this, and distributing out wide. Noah Jensen worked very well even with Bekker to his side, and by constantly picking passes off and shifting momentum on a dime, Forge found most of their chances.
It isn’t a secret that Forge haven’t been at the typical level of their game recently, so getting firmly into the most dangerous areas of the pitch was a big part of the game plan, and it was executed to perfection. Jensen playing the ball through to Hamilton or vice-versa was an unfortunate frequent sighting for York. No matter who it was, York’s fullbacks couldn’t keep up with Forge breaking the line.
On the second goal, the ball was just bouncing around in the box with a cross and then a header to get it back into a good area, where Campbell was in the right place, totally unmarked, to smash the ball home. The visiting side took advantage of some unorganized defence, who definitely looked like they were scrambling on some plays to get the ball out of the area. Weak clearances were seemingly the way to go, and no one tried getting a pass out wide to dribble up the pitch. Thus, Forge could keep the ball where they wanted. Nine shots in the box (according to SofaScore) is very telling.
“We work on it [breaking the line] a lot,” Bobby Smyniotis explained. “We talk a lot about final third football and there’s two things you’re gonna do: death by a thousand passes, because if the opponent doesn’t give you something or the ball is getting in behind, and if it is, then you need maximum numbers inside the box. If you look at those goals we scored there’s about in and around the box, because then you’re getting into deep positions, you’re either going to have cutbacks, balls to the back post, you may have a rebound…That’s something that we work on, that’s something that we train…most of them [goals] are coming from the penalty area, so it’s something we work on quite a bit in training.”
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Forge also hit the post twice and were denied thrice by Niko Giantsopoulos. Once more, York’s goalkeeper is keeping the club in matches. Without him, it very well could’ve been a much worse scoreline. Leaping all around the six-yard box, coming out into the faces of Forge attackers, as well as having some true ‘safe hands keeper’ moments backed up to his goal line, Sunday night was another vintage Giantsopoulos game where he won’t be the person to blame for goals conceded.
In front of Niko, things were getting desperate going forward. Many players didn’t look in their element or in a natural role; because of Forge’s advanced pressure they had to drop back. Aside from Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé, the midfield looked a bit out of sorts. Mo Babouli, returning from a yellow card suspension, wasn’t himself when dribbling. Soumaoro was virtually invisible aside for the deflection. Austin Ricci and Max Ferrari, who are usually very fast and powerful going forward didn’t have any opportunities to do so. Paris Gee on the opposite side was stuck playing defence even though he was slotted in his favoured wing-back spot. “Coming out of the back they were pressing well and we just couldn’t figure out which passes to play into the middle, down the wing, or over the top, those decisions just weren’t quick enough,” Gee remarked.
“I thought we were just slow, we were pedestrian in possession, it’s what I wrote in my notes at half-time,” Martin Nash said. “We were trying to tell them ‘play quicker, play quicker’ and they were jumping on every pass. We’d talked about needing to break lines, especially with the way they press, but we didn’t break lines. We didn’t look to play in behind, and when you do that the team can stay up.”
On the topic of balls over the top, when York tried that play it was far too predictable. Tass Mourdoukoutas and Roger Thompson would take their time positioning and then send one forward. Brian Wright was all alone in the middle and both centre-backs would come toward him and ‘keeper Triston Henry would approach from the back. Wright was always outmuscled and moved away from the ball. It always seemed a bit desperate, and it’s a style York doesn’t typically deploy. They never try to go straight to the striker, and it’s clear that that play was a bit rusty. “It was a bit difficult at the end of the first half, especially playing balls over the top,” Nash added, “but you still have to do it and try to create space, we didn’t look to do it, we talked about it , we worked on it, but we tried playing too many short balls…They caught us a few times.”
Henry got far too many touches just by taking advantage of this. Wright didn’t have many chances on other plays to get an increasingly-needed goal, crosses weren’t coming from anywhere.
The one player who looked decent out wide was Michael Petrasso, earning his first start of the season. Interestingly enough, he was the isolated attacker (not Wright) to try and play a switch-ball to from a defender. Petrasso was great at cutting in and dribbling as per usual, but he uncharacteristically only attempted one cross. Forge left a couple defenders lingering in that area to swarm Petrasso. He lost possession 16 times because of it.
From the 58th minute on, things levelled out a bit as a York quadruple-substitution saw speedy attackers go on and attempt a fightback from 4-0 down. “We needed to see a change at that moment,” Nash said. “Put a bit of pace in, and see what happens, I thought the attitude when they came on was a bit better , we were on the front foot more, were were able to pin them in, we were able to get some turnovers and do some things we were talking about from the start.
“I think mentally the way we came out we took them for granted a little bit, which is something no team should do against Forge.”
As the Hamiltonians party on their bus on the way back home, York stays put, eagerly anticipating an even tougher match against league-leaders Pacific, who have caused the Nine Stripes quite a bit of heartbreak.
Gee was adamant that the next few days will be important. “I think coming in on Tuesday, we’ve got to fix the things from this game and come in with a fresh mentality that we’re at home again, and we’ve got to put our foot down and battle. I think having this result, at the beginning of the second half of the season could be a good thing. It’s like a shot in the foot, and a fire lit under everyone’s ass, for us to stay at the top of the table, we’ve got to grind and push to get points against every team, any way we can.”
Top photo by David Chant
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