Shortly after he had lifted the trophy for the first time, we spoke to Forge goalkeeper Triston Henry. Here are is post-match thoughts, as he completed a rollercoaster of a first-ever professional season.
After a season of highs and lows, they managed to finish at the peak of the Canadian Premier League’s first season.
Against the best offensive squad, the aptly named Cavalry FC, Forge found some success through their defensive resilience. Despite being one of the better attacking teams in the CPL themselves, they forged a path towards the ‘North Star Shield’ through compact defending and timely saves, and that allowed them to be champions.
“It’s just amazing,” Forge FC goalkeeper Triston Henry said to BTSVancity shortly after lifting the trophy for the first time. “Amazing resilience from the guys just to go in and defend like we did for two games in a row and conceding no goals in the finals, it’s an amazing feeling and there’s nothing better than getting a championship.”
He added: “It’s just a matter of staying locked into the game, let’s make sure that we defend well, if they don’t score, there’s no chance for them to win, so we just wanted to make sure we stayed focused at the back and keep a zero there, and that helped us get a championship.”
It was never going to be easy against Cavalry, winners of both the spring and fall championships, who came into the final as early favourites. On top of their wealth of attacking options, they had the best defensive record, as well, buoyed by star goalkeeper Marco Carducci and a deep collection of talented defenders.
But for Forge, who had long-believed all season that they were just as good as Cavalry, if not better, they got hot at the right time, and it led to them stifling a Cavalry side that had not often been silenced.
“It’s confidence, we’ve been playing some fantastic football, there’s no doubt, it’s not just over the last couple of games, but it’s been over this second part of the season, in the fall championship,” Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis said after the game.
“I think the guys have been excellent, they’ve made a big commitment to both sides of the field. And I think that shows, our last three games of the season, are all three games against Cavalry, and we got three clean sheets.”
A big part of that was the play of Triston Henry, Forge’s main goalkeeper, who stood strong at Spruce Meadows to secure the title. While his stat line will only show that he made 2 saves, they were a pair of big ones, and the stat sheet doesn’t take into account the other intangibles he brought to the field. With every claimed cross or punted ball, he would get up and fire up his squad, and it boosted them through what was a tough Calgary environment.
After going to battle for his teammates all season, they were happy to return the favour once again, and it’s that connectedness that got them to the title.
“I mean him and Q (backup Quillan Roberts), all year when they’ve been called upon they’ve been great,” Forge captain Kyle Bekker said. “They’ve bailed us out of games time and time again, so when you see that, you see he’s on his game here, you just want to fight for him. You don’t wanna let him down. He was fantastic today again, and I think he controlled a lot of the game. He didn’t rush anything coming out of the back, and he was as steady as she goes.”
While there have been many other poster boys for the CPL this season, from the opportunity provided to under 23 Canadians, to the veterans that returned home and resurrected their careers, Henry could be as good as a story as any. Despite being 26 years old, he is only finishing up his first-ever professional season, having only played at the amateur level with Sigma FC after not finding a suitable pro opportunity when he graduated from Quinnipiac.
And given how strong he played this year, with his 9 clean sheets only matched at the top by Marco Carducci, as well as his 55 saves, which ranked 5th best overall, it has given Henry a pathway to bigger and better things. At 25, his journey towards becoming a pro seemed stalled, and he seemed destined for a career at the amateur level until the CPL stepped up.
Having now done all that, as well as help play a big role in Forge’s CONCACAF League run and now with the North Star Shield, it has raised Henry’s profile massively. Goalkeepers typically peak later than other positions on the pitch, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him move on up in a year or two, with the launch of the CPL being the launchpad needed to jumpstart his career.
And when those moves happen, he can point back to those memories from this first season, which got the cherry on top of its proverbial cake with the clean sheet at Spruce Meadows on Saturday.
“We’ve done it before,” Henry said of his team’s big-game mentality. “We talked about it in the locker room, going back to CONCACAF (League). Going to Antigua and knowing that we had to get a clean sheet. So it’s just that same mentality, we knew that we could get a clean sheet, and that we could do it here, and that helped us win the championship.”
In a tough Calgary environment, it was never going to be easy, so it’s no surprise to see that it took a near-perfect defensive record to beat them over 90 minutes. With Cavalry only having lost twice at home in 2019, with Forge and MLS’s Montreal Impact the only sides able to breach the Cavalry lines, it was not going to be an easy task. Much like watching into a Lions den, they were going to have to hang on for dear life to snatch a result, and it was unsure if they would be able to do so.
But after having played 8 times this year, with the games often being close, Forge knew that they had a fighting chance, and it was just a matter of tapping into some of the resolve shown in that earlier defeat of Cavalry in the earlier Spruce Meadows clash.
“Definitely because we’ve done it before,” Henry said when asked of his confidence ahead of the result. “ So we knew their strengths, we knew their weaknesses, so it was just a matter of staying locked in at the back and we were going to keep that zero over two games. And honestly, that’s now three games in a row (that we kept a clean sheet) playing back to that last game in the regular season.”
Thanks to Henry and company, they found a way to get it done, and it granted them the chance to lift the shield on enemy territory. After falling just short in their quest for both the Spring and Fall championships, they came up huge on the biggest stage, and it earned them a chance to reverse Hamilton’s 20+ year sports title drought.
And, with the victory, it put Forge at 62 points over both the two seasons and the final, which would is exactly the same amount that Cavalry has. When that was pointed out to Henry, he was quick to say that it was due to their perseverance all year long, and that it all just happened to culminate at the time they needed it most.
“It shows that we’ve been resilient all year,” Henry said emphatically. “We started off slow, so maybe that’s why they were able to get to the (Spring and Fall) championships before us, but we came around, and we got the ball rolling at the right time.”
Now for Henry and his Forge teammates, it’s time to party. After Hamilton waited so long for a title, they’re going to be soaking in the celebrations for the next little while, and based on how Forge’s players celebrated on Saturday, they’ll be happy to provide that joy for them.
After that, it’ll be back to the drawing board, as they look to repeat as first-ever back-to-back winners. While some of their players look to be likely out the door, with star forward Tristan Borges likely to lead that charge with a big-money move to either MLS or Europe, they have a good foundation to build off of.
And that will likely be led by Henry at the back. After showing improvement all season long, he still has a lot of growth still to come, and the final was just a start. In a league full of top goalkeepers, he shone as one of the brightest, and he’ll just want to keep it up next year, as he looks to one day pave his way towards MLS or even Europe. While at 26 it’s a bit of a long shot, but after his growth in his first pro season at such a late age, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
With this final win in his back pocket, he’ll have plenty of positive memories to lean back on in that journey, so watch out for him next year.
“It was everything a final could live up. It was two teams that wanted it more, and we were the team that came on top,” Henry said.
“You knew that it was going to be physical, especially against a team like this that we played against them a couple of times this season, so we knew it was going be a good fight.”