Despite Hamilton heartbreak, Forge FC proves Canadian Premier League belongs on big stage

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Published October 28, 2021 at 9:51 am

Forge FC and CF Montréal needed a marathon 11 rounds of penalties after playing to a 0-0 draw in the Canadian Championship semifinal. It was Sebastian Breza of Montréal and Forge's Triston Henry (pictured) that starred between posts. (Photo: Forge FC Hamilton on Twitter)

Two years ago when the Canadian Premier League (CPL) launched its inaugural season in Hamilton, it was met with skepticism from soccer fans. Who could blame them? All they knew about the sport in North America was Toronto FC and Major League Soccer (MLS). The CPL was a much smaller operation with far fewer clubs and a lack of a presence in Canada’s biggest sports markets.

After its first-ever season, the CPL sold a player to a European club, had Forge FC win a Concacaf League away match in El Salvador, and watched York9 FC (now York United FC) defeat an MLS club that had been around for more than nine years at the time.

Thousands of fans sat in frigid late-October temperatures at Tim Horton’s Field Wednesday (Oct. 28). And while their beloved Forge FC dropped a penalty kick heartbreaker to CF Montréal in the first-ever match CPL vs MLS match in Hamilton, the hometown supporters were able to confirm their belief that the CPL belongs on the big stage in North America.

With their win in the Canadian Championship semifinal, CF Montréal will play either Toronto FC or Pacific FC — another CPL vs MLS matchup, scheduled for Nov. 3.

Forge and Montréal needed a marathon 11 rounds of penalties after playing to a 0-0 draw.

It was Sebastian Breza of Montréal and Forge’s Triston Henry that starred between posts — and from the spot.

The visiting keeper ended the match when Breza slipped a shot past his counterpart Henry to send Montréal back to the Voyageurs Cup final.

After Breza stopped Henry to begin the 11th round of penalties, Breza appeared surprised he was summoned to take Montreal’s next kick. He pointed to his teammates peering in from inside the centre circle.

“I had no idea I was shooting,” Breza said. “I was looking at our team to see who hadn’t shot.”

“I just wanted to score, so we go home, celebrating on the plane and thinking about the final. Nowadays, keepers use their feet as well, so it’s not like we can’t kick. I just wanted to make the net move.”

CF Montréal is the defending Voyageur Cup champion, having won the title in 2019. There was no Canadian Championship competition last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This was crazy because this year we’ve had a lot of things happen for the first time,” Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy said.

“It was the first time for me to see it end like this, so I’m going to remember this.”

Forge FC captain Kyle Bekker would rather forget the way his team’s semifinal ended. The home side was trying to become the first Canadian Premier League team to advance to the Voyageurs Cup final.

“We deserved a lot more,” Bekker said. “We played a fantastic 90 minutes, and it took 11 PKs to beat us. So it is a little harsh at the end of the day. But that’s the reality.”

Forge FC mustered 13 shots, five on target to Montreal’s five shots and only two on Henry.

“We were good for the win in the 90 minutes, and it doesn’t come,” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said. “When you get into penalties, a little bit, Russian roulette.

“I thought it was important for us to be a little bit higher up the field against a team that likes to get on the ball and get into a rhythm.

“We didn’t really give them much to be able to come out of their back end made it very difficult for them, and that way it kept a lot of the game in their field for spells.”

Forge FC carried its solid play at the end of the opening half into the final 45 minutes with a couple of early chances.

Kwame Awuah’s long-shot narrowly missed the far post. Then, in the 49th minute, Mo Babouli slid a pass that Emery Welshman failed to redirect from in close.

Yellow cards to Montreal captain Samuel Piette and Joel Waterman in the 52nd and 57th minutes resulted in two failed free kicks for Forge FC.

Forge forward Tristan Borges was booked two minutes later. But Montreal couldn’t capitalize.

Breza made a diving stop on Borges, curling left to right shot from just outside the box in the 62nd minute.

Forge (13-8-2) sits third in the Canadian Premier League table with 41 points, three behind the leader, Cavalry FC and one point shy of second-place Pacific FC. The Hamilton side already clinched a playoff spot with five matches remaining.

Forge will get another chance to impress internationally next Tuesday (Nov. 2) when it hosts Costa Rica’s Santos de Guápiles in the second leg of the Concacaf League quarterfinals. Hamilton scored an away goal in the first match but ultimately enters their home leg down 3-1.

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