CPL Regular Season 2021 (The Kickoff) – Game # 3
Forge FC vs. Valor FC
June 27, 2021 at 2:00 p.m. ET / 1:00 p.m. CT
IG field in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Watch live: OneSoccer.ca
The hometown team against the two-time Canadian Premier League champion.
Valor FC and Forge FC face each other in the third episode of a quadruple header game on the opening weekend at the kickoff in Winnipeg on Sunday. Their last matchup took place during the Island Games last year, when the two teams drew 2-2 – the first point Rob Gale’s group took for the Hammers in six games.
Forge looks a slightly different roster than the one crowned in 2020 with major deductions like David Edgar – who now serves as assistant coach – and Anthony Novak, who moved west to cavalry. To fill in the gaps, Dejan Jakovic comes from LAFC and brings a wealth of work experience, while a host of fascinating options also join the attack put on by former Montreal Impact striker Omar Browne and 2019 Player of the Year Tristan Borges Loans return, led by Belgium.
With the shortest preseason and shortest offseason (thanks to her run in the Concacaf league) of a CPL team, coach Bobby Smyrniotis recognizes the physical challenges Forge faces earlier in the year. Changes may be needed to start, but Smyrniotis is making sure his group is organizationally ready for their kick-off to tackle the fitness hurdles they will face once they get a foothold in Winnipeg.
“We have to be smart about the way we do things,” Smyrniotis told reporters on Friday. “If we think a team is a little better prepared physically than we are, then we have to be very well prepared tactically for what we’re going to do on the field, and I think that’s the greatest thing we’ve focused on.”
For Valor, the structure of the season was a bit more structured as the team at IG Field will host the rest of the league. The so-called “home advantage” may not be as big a factor as some expected, however, given that the Manitoba team has switched training venues and, like the other seven clubs, is limited to one hotel. While Gale is looking forward to the test, he understands that the Sunday version of the Champions may not see her at top speed given the circumstances.
“To be honest, it has been difficult for both teams to get going with the shortened preseason and everything that has happened,” Gale said in his pre-game press conference. “It’s a completely different feeling, but it’s going to be a good matchup.”
While Gale did well to bring in reinforcements, mostly through loan spells, the narrative of Forge’s preparation for the season (or lack thereof) and the resulting weekend storylines can be a bit over the top in the eyes of the Valor coach.
“We’ll see what comes out (for Forge) on Sunday … we can only play against the two-time defending champions so we’ll see how we do.”
3 THINGS TO SEE
- Forge Match Fitness: They may be the repeat reigning champions, but the Hammers had little time to prepare for their third straight CPL title – their first full training session took place in the bubble on IG Field. Bobby Smyrniotis has also brought in plenty of reinforcements for his attacking group, which could prove dangerous throughout the season, but an initial transition period for the Forge attack is a real possibility considering how many fresh faces are up front. With the perks of the home field and more preseason reps to lean on, Rob Gale and Valor could see this game as an opportunity to sneak past a sleeping giant.
- Valor could again rely on borrowers: Gale did as good a job as any CPL coach in selling his squad as a chance for young players to develop during a loan period – as evidenced by the performances of James Pantemis and Julian Dunn during the Island Games. After the aforementioned couple are back at their MLS parent clubs, Valor has again dipped into the loan department for 2021 and Jonathan Sirois (CF Montreal), Sean Rea (CF Montreal), Jared Ulloa (Sporting Cristal) and Rodrigo Reyes (Chivas.) taken over) for the duration of the season. Sirois could immediately take on the goalkeeping role while Reyes is a strong candidate for the XI as a center-back and both Rea and Ulloa give Gale some versatility and depth in attack. Don’t be surprised if any (or all) of these teenagers are up against Forge and performing regularly all year round.
- Cloud nine? Forge and Valor have met six times in the CPL game. To date, Gale’s best group is a 2-2 tie – the last game during the Island Games last September. As mentioned earlier, Smyrniotis had little time to get his roster up and running. Add the convenient location of this competition and this match could open the door for Valor to take her first three points against the back-to-back champions.
Forge FC wins: 5 || Valor FC wins: 0 || Pulls: 1
September 5, 2020 – Forge FC 2-2 Valor FC
“Let’s face it, training, not training, we all want to play games … there we see what works, what doesn’t, what our opponents look like and we look forward to it.” – Bobby Smyrniotis, Forge FC coach
“We praise Forge and Fairplay for them, they did it and they are the team to beat. – Rob Gale, Valor FC coach
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