HAMILTON, ON – When Forge FC built their club five years ago, success was the focus of their plan. While the club has captured three of the four Canadian Premier League titles since the league’s beginning, they’re still looking to make history for Canada’s top division.
Despite wins against MLS sides in the competition, no CPL club has won the Canadian Championship, and none have ever come close. On Tuesday, Forge took the first steps in their 2023 journey, defeating PLSQ champion and amateur side FC Laval.
Although Forge has played in a Canadian Championship Final before, losing to Toronto FC in 2021, they have never navigated their way through a full bracket in the competition.
Against Laval, however, they proved their strength and desire to win the trophy.
“It all comes down to the [Concacaf] Champions League, and there are three routes to get there, and this is one of them that is just as important as every other one,” Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis said post-match.
“We’re a club that’s played in finals and played in major competitions. This year, it’s all about [getting to] the Champions League, so we have three routes to get there, and we have to be serious in each and every one of them.”
Taking on an amateur side, one of three in the competition, Forge showed just how much they want to compete for the trophy. While many of the higher division clubs tend to play weaker lineups, Forge fielded a side fit for any CPL match and promptly played FC Laval off the pitch at Tim Hortons Field.
“[Playing strong lineups] is very important; that’s central to how we like to build the team here at Forge, not only this year but all the years,” Smyrniotis said. “That gives you a good chance to compete in the longevity of a season that starts today and ends six or seven months from now.”
Laval, the top amateur team from Quebec, began the match in a rigid five-man backline anchored by former CF Montreal centre-back Wandrille Lefevre. Yet, the early stages showed them to be a step behind Forge’s attack, as their structure fell flat against the likes of Woobens Pacius and Tristan Borges.
At the same time, goalkeeper Karl Gouab aggressively approached the game, putting his team in risky positions several times, challenging attackers that were simply at a different level than what he faces in the PLSQ.
After struggling to organize attacks despite a bolstering lineup, Forge broke through in the 31st minute, as Noah Jensen stuck his foot through a failed clearance, beating Gouab to put the reigning CPL champions up 1-0.
From then, Laval appeared to get desperate, throwing attackers forward with little success against Forge’s defence. With that, the Hamiltonians continued to drive forward, forcing Laval into mistakes at the back.
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 19, 2023
Jensen fired home a free kick in the 55th minute with help of Lefevre’s knee deflection before Gouab took down an attacker in the box, earning himself a yellow card and allowing Pacius to smash home a penalty kick.
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 19, 2023
For Forge, breaking through barriers and winning is at the forefront of how the club operates on a daily basis. In the Canadian Championship, they haven’t done that yet, but have a clear desire.
With the win, Forge now advances to the second round of the Canadian Championship, where they will face the winner of Atletico Ottawa and HFX Wanderers, who clash in their first-round matchup on Wednesday night.
“We’ve talked about [winning the Voyageurs Cup] a lot this year; it’s obviously important to us as well,” said Forge defender/midfielder Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson. “This year, we feel that we can do something special to hopefully become the first CPL team to win the championship.”
The Third Sub Player of the Match
Noah Jensen, 23
Jensen’s fine form to start the season with Forge is nothing short of spectacular. While the campaign may just be two games long and feature a win against Laval, there’s a lot to be excited about for the 20-year-old midfielder.
With Kyle Becker suspended for the beginning of the season, Jensen has stepped up in the role and is making a case to stay in the starting XI when the club’s veteran captain returns. While he looked good against Cavalry, scoring a wonder goal to open the season, he played a mature and controlling game on Tuesday, outclassing the opponent en route to his brace.