Island Introspections: Forge vs Cavalry set tone for CPL ‘Island Games’ tournament in opening day clash

In our first edition of ‘Island Introspections’, a column looking at the Canadian Premier League’s ‘Island Games’ tournament, we look at the first day of action from P.E.I., where 2019 finalists Forge FC and Cavalry FC put up a show. 

The Canadian Premier League is back!

Nearly 300 days after the league put a wrap on its 2019 season, they finally kicked off their 2020 season, with their ‘Island Games’ tournament officially getting underway this week. 

And much like it ended, with Forge FC and Cavalry FC doing battle, it started the same way, with the two combatants engaging in a spirited day 1 tilt to kickstart 2020 action. 

Even despite the lengthy hiatus, neither team looked to miss a beat in this opener, as what the game lacked in sharpness certainly was more than made up for in guile and intensity, as several hard challenges were thrown around by both teams right from the get-go. 

In the opening match of what should promise to be an exciting tournament, it gave everyone a taste of what to expect going forward from not only both Cavalry and Forge, but also everyone else in the competition, who will have to step their games up to meet the standard set by the two favourites in this opening match. 

So in this, we’ll look at what we took away from this opening game, and look forward to what’s next at this tournament, as a busy slate of games awaits all teams, starting this Saturday, where there is a doubleheader of York9 vs Atletico Ottawa and Pacific FC vs Halifax Wanderers is on tap. 

The intensity was noticeable:

Right from the first whistle, Forge and Cavalry set the tone from a physical standpoint, as some big challenges were thrown around by both teams. 

From Elijah Adekugbe on Cavalry, who had a few noticeably hard challenges, including one inside 5 minutes that got everyone on both teams fired up, to Marcel Zajac on Forge, who retaliated Adekugbe’s strong challenges with some tackles of his own, both teams didn’t shy away from the dirty areas. 

“We knew Cavalry was gonna come out fast and quick, that’s something that they have in their game,” Forge head coach Bobby Smyrnotis said after the game.

While the quality started to fade as the game went along, which was to be expected between two teams who hadn’t played in so long, to see that sort of intensity in the first game is a positive sign for the league. 

This sort of intensity was certainly helped by the two combatants, as Forge and Cavalry developed a healthy rivalry over the course of the many games they played last year, but given how much the other teams have fought this offseason to live up to these two teams, expect them to try and match this in future contests. 

“After ten months, to go out there and show character like that, it was incredible,” Cavalry defender Dominick Zator told Onesoccer after the game. “You could see it right out if the bat, challenges were flying in, everyone wanted to show they’d get stuck in.

You do have to wonder if the pitch played a factor in this play, as the P.E.I. pith is supposedly a little smaller than what teams are used to, putting space at a premium, which as we saw on Thursday, can lead to some big collisions on the metaphorical train tracks. 

But at the very least, as teams work their way up towards their top fitness, things will only get better, as well, so we can expect a lot more of this going forward. 

The quality will come with time, as various leagues have shown with their restarts, but the intensity usually also follows a similar pattern, so no doubt that the managers, players and fans will have been extra happy to see this sort of level established at the start of the tournament, as it will only get better from here. 

Forge vs Cavalry never without controversy:

It just couldn’t be a Forge vs Cavalry game without a little controversy, eh?

While there were certainly some justified hard feelings on both sides given the scope of some of the tackles given out, along with a reluctance to go to the book from the referee, but that was something that affected both teams. 

But right at the 92nd minute, the big moment happened. 

In a late push to equalize, Cavalry threw players forward, and second-half substitute, Mo Farsi, found himself in a great offensive position, just outside the Forge box. 

He did well to get the ball onto his left, and then he fired a good shot, but it was blocked by Dominic Samuel, who slid to get in front of the youngsters’ pop shot. 

All was not perfect with his challenge, however, as he left his arm out when he slid, and the ball hit his arm, causing shouts of a penalty. 

And after a talk with the 4th official, who flagged down the penalty, the referee gave it, giving Cavalry a chance to tie things at 2 from the spot, which they eventually did via Nathan Mavila. 

Immediately, CPL social media was up in arms over the penalty, with there being several claims for penalty and no-penalty from both sides of the debate. 

The ball did hit Samuel’s arm, but after appearing to take a deflection off of his ribcage, which under the new handball laws, isn’t a penalty. It was hard to pick that up in real-time, which explains the decision on the field, but it certainly was a tough pill for Forge to have to swallow. 

As a result, it was a big talking point after the match, especially for Forge fans, who felt hard done by the call. 

“This is not a penalty, it’s as simple as that,” Forge head coach Bobby Smyrnitois said after the game. “I would probably say that 100 times out of 100. At the end of the day, the call is made. I think the referee called it off in his first look, just looking at the referee he made the motion of ‘no call’ and actually said it. What happened after that to change his mind I’m not so sure.”

While Tommy Wheeldon Jr. didn’t say much on the matter after the game, just saying that he and his team can’t change the decisions on the field, right or wrong, there is certainly a lot to ponder with a decision like this. 

It also brings up the question: should VAR come to the CPL?

The league is still young, so it’s understandable that they’ve haven’t had a chance to ponder the idea of VAR, but no doubt, after seeing how tight a decision like that can be, it’s definitely something to look at for 2021 and beyond. 

That’s something that Smyrnitois supports, even if he knows that it won’t always favour his team if implemented. 

“I think it would help the game all around, especially for plays like that that are later on,” Smyrniotis said. “Whether that’s a play for Forge or against, it has nothing to do with Forge, it helps out the process.”

The broadcast was an intriguing idea:

Presentation-wise, the game was delivered under new circumstances on OneSoccer, who floated some new ideas to help in-game presentation ahead of this one. 

One of them was the creation of a sort of virtual stadium, in which it would look like teams were playing in a ‘Football Manager-Esque’ stadium, all thanks to some creative 3D digital enhancement technology. 

They debuted it on the broadcast Thursday, and to be honest, it wasn’t that bad. 

There were some hitches, especially when the ball went higher than 10 feet into the air, but for the most part, it was pretty smooth, and it was a better addition to the broadcast than say, fake crowd noise, would be. 

Considering that the stadium at Charlottetown looks more like your run of the mill park than a typical soccer stadium, it was a nice touch, and as long as they work out the glitches as they go along, fans won’t mind having it there. 

CPL share an important message: Black Lives Matter

Cavalry’s Nathan Mavila kneels in support of Black Lives Matter after scoring the 2-2 equalizer([CPL/Chant Photography])

But speaking of the broadcast, as part of the digital technology, the league had a giant ‘Black Lives Matter’ logo in the middle of the pitch, which was a very nice touch. 

Instead of using the technology to promote a sponsor, as MLS did in their broadcasts, the CPL elected to share the important message that Black Lives do Matter, which considering everything that’s been going on these past few months, and the high percentage of Black players in the league, was a nice touch from them. 

Along with a good pre-game ceremony, in which players came out wearing CPL-branded Black Lives Matter shirts, and took the time to kneel in a circle before the game, coming together to commemorate the brutal murders that many Black people have unjustly faced at the hands of police, the CPL has to be applauded for the work that they did in pulling off their peaceful protests. 

While Smyrnitois and Wheeldon Jr. weren’t asked about their thoughts on the matter after the game, with there being so many talking points surrounding the match itself, Pacific FC head coach Pa Modou Kah was asked about his thoughts on what the league did in a pre-game press conference on Friday.

As the first Black coach in the CPL, and one of only 3 Black head coaches across the 34 CPL and MLS teams, he knows how important his role is for young Black kids looking up to him, so he wasn’t shy to share what this all meant to him. 

“I mean, for me, it’s not only about the league, but it’s about what’s been happening for the past 400 years,” Kah said. “And it’s not new for people like myself, we’ve been going through it for a long time, even when I played in Europe, I’ve seen it. But we’re in 2020, and I think it’s always been there, but it’s easier now, for (people) to capture it on their phones and stuff like that, but the (BLM) movement has to continue.”

“And it’s not all about movement, for me, it’s just about doing what is right. Because we all know what is right what is wrong. We all ask for equality, we know that, right? So apart from that, for me it’s more about, hey, let’s educate one another, let’s rewrite history. And let’s strive to get the best out of each other as human beings. But what the league did yesterday was very good, what MLS did was also very good. So let’s keep educating each other, let’s keep being open trying to help each other because that’s the only way that we will get better as human beings and also as athletes.”

He also added: “Also one thing I want to touch the subject on, and I think is very important as well. It’s also important that we can acknowledge also the Indigenous peoples and also the first nations because they are also important to this country as well. So not only talk about Black Lives Matter, but also let’s also make sure that we also think about also the Indigenous peoples and First Nations because they also been through a lot.”

All-in-all, as Kah stated, the CPL did a great job with what they did on Thursday, and it was a good chance for people to be reminded that Black Lives and Indigenous lives do matter, and if people use this moment to educate themselves, then it’ll be a win for everyone. 

Looking Forward:

So now, having seen what Forge and Cavalry put up as a first offering, it’ll be interesting to see what the rest of the weekend in the CPL brings us. 

With York vs Ottawa in an Ontario derby on Saturday, along with Pacific vs Halifax, before Forge plays Valour and Cavalry plays Edmonton on Sunday, there will be no shortage of games on tap for CPL fans this weekend. 

After a lengthy absence without CPL soccer, the games will be flying in fast and furious over the next few weeks, as the ‘Island Games’ really starts to ramp up here. 

As we saw in this opening game, these matches should be intense, and with so much on the line, including the ‘North Star Shield’, a CONCACAF League spot and a Voyageurs Cup final place, that will continue as the tournament goes along. 

Which if you’re a fan of any team in this tournament, or a fan of Canadian soccer in general, should be exciting to monitor as the tournament continues to unroll over the next month and a half here. 

Up next: Saturday August 15th, 2020: York 9 vs Atletico Ottawa (9:00 AM PST/12:00 EST) and Pacific FC vs Halifax Wanderers (12:00 PST/15:00 EST)

Cover Photo: Canadian Premier League/Chant Photography

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