“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel”: Forge hoping that continuity, experience help overcome long CPL offseason

The 2019 CPL Champions, Forge, kicked off training camp this week. Here is a report from their camp, where spirits are high, the mentality is good and bright things appear to be on the horizon are on a team that is expected to be among the league leaders once again in 2020.

After setting the bar high in year 1, they want to keep on pushing forward in year 2.

Nearly exactly 4 months to the day that they lowered the curtains on act 1, finishing 2019 as the inaugural Canadian Premier League champions, Forge has reconvened for act 2 this week, as they get set to defend their crown in year 1. 

100+ days of rest now behind them, they’re happy to be back together again, as they get set to make the next act even more memorable than the first.

“It’s been pretty tough getting back into it, but it’s good seeing the guys again, it’s good getting back on the field, so it’s enjoyable,” winger Chris Nanco told BTSVancity this week.

In a memorable final, one where Forge dug deep and pulled a pair of tough 1-0 results out of their back pocket, showing off their resiliency, resolve and will to win, using that to down a Cavalry side that had been narrowly ahead of them all season long. 

With most of Forge’s squad returning ahead of this season, they, along with Cavalry, are early favourites to lead the way again in 2020, even despite the work that has been done by the teams around them to try and keep up. 

Have some of those changes been impactful? Absolutely, as there is arguably no team that got worse, with teams such as Pacific, York 9 and Halifax Wanderers looking a whole lot better than they did 6 months ago, but they’re all still yet to prove themselves against the gold standard, which in this case, has been set by Forge and Cavalry. 

Last year, the two finalists were deeper, fitter, and more impactful when it counted most, which is why they led the way. Forge, in particular, was convincing for their money in the final, with silverware on the line, so it’s not hard to imagine them continuing to grow this year, starting with preseason.

“Yeah, I mean you can see the difference, especially last year, you could see the difference in chemistry in teams,” Nanco said. “I think since we have a big core coming back, you’re going to see a lot of chemistry right off the bat. Our guys get along well together, we’re like a big family here, so I think that’s going to really help us out once we start the season.”

So is that continuity going to make a difference?

“I think it’s important,” Forge left-back, Kwame Awuah, told BTS. “Because honestly, continuity, and a lot of guys have a lot of chemistry on and off the field. We all like to play the same type of football, and we have a good connection with the coaching staff. So I think that’s important. We can always just pick up where we left off and try to better ourselves from last year to this year.”

But while it’s clear that the hunger still lingers, one has to imagine that it was slightly dampened by that offseason, which as mentioned previously, lasted just over 4 months. 

It’s been good for teams that needed the rest, especially Forge and Cavalry, who had heavy workloads due to their runs in both the CONCACAF League and Voyageurs Cup, respectively, along with their work in the league itself, but even for them, they found a bit long. 

“Yeah, it’s definitely something that I needed to get used to,” Nanco said. “Playing in America for a bit, the offseason wasn’t that long, but it’s more time to work on your game in the offseason, (before) getting back into it. Hopefully, it’s shortened for the years to come. That’s something I want to see shortened and changed, but getting back into it you just got to kind of go full force and hope that it clicks on the first day.”

At the same time, that’s just the reality of the Canadian weather situation. For example, a week ago the Greater Toronto Area was covered in snow, yet this week it’s been spring weather, but even that doesn’t look like lasting for long, with snow in the forecast in the coming days. 

That makes it hard to plan games, with those temperature swings causing trouble for most teams, bar maybe Victoria’s Pacific, who definitely gets the friendliest of climates among the CPL teams. 

What can you do about that? Mostly nothing, but at the same time, it’s not like those 4 months are wasted, with players trying staying fit in any way possible. 

“Other than having our offseason program that they gave us, a lot of us wants to go play pickup at certain places,” Awuah said. “I had the opportunity to play pick up with a couple of guys that Dwayne De Rosario put together, and I had an opportunity to play pickup in the Hershey center, where a lot of the guys are CPL and ex-MLS guys, and the quality was always there.”

“Sometimes you’re not even there just to win, you’re just there to get the touches in there to get the fitness, so that was an important thing as well. And (after that), then the rest is just up to you.”

Even despite talk of Forge’s continuity, however, there are still some holes to fill in their squad. 

One will be quite hard to fill, and that will be the replacement of 2019 CPL MVP and Golden Boot winner, Tristan Borges, but there are some other patches that do need addressing throughout the lineup, with Forge needing some depth in each of the defensive, midfield and attacking lines.

Having only made one offseason move, bringing in a new backup goalkeeper, David Monsalve, it’s been a quiet offseason for Forge fans, which is certainly understandable considering their overall depth and what they accomplished in 2019, but still surprising, nonetheless. 

But fear not, Forge fans, help is on the way. 

The source? The main man, head coach Bobby Smyrniotis himself. 

“Yeah, we’re going to add from different pools, so the numbers are where they are right now, in the next two weeks, they’ll be additions to the squad and players announced,” Smyrniotis told BTS. “We’ve done a great job with our staff over the offseason in targeting what we want. It’s very specific what we’re looking for. Like you said, we haven’t had a lot of turnover in the squad, a majority of our players who were very important to our team are here this year, as well.”

“So it’s a matter of when you’re adding somebody, and especially bringing somebody from outside, that they’re guys that bring quality or maybe have a little bit more of future potential in them, and that’s what we’re looking at.”

Smyrniotis holding the ‘North Star Shield’ after defeating Cavalry in the 2019 CPL Finals (Keveren Guillou)

It’ll be interesting to see who they bring in, especially considering how balanced their squad is, but they do have some cap space and 4 international spots to play around with, which does give them some flexibility. 

Having seen the quality of players that some of his rivals have brought in, it certainly isn’t hard to imagine Forge bolstering their roster with a player of a similar ilk.

Thanks to the partnership between the league and 21st Club, an international scouting database that has provided the league with an expansive pool of players currently plying their trade around the world, the quality of international players in the CPL looks to have gone up massively, which will help boost the many Canadians that make up the majority of the league.

“Yeah, it seems like a lot of new internationals are coming into the league.” Smyrniotis said with a laugh when asked about all of those new signings.

Given Forge’s strong collection of Canadians, with 15 of their 18 currently signed players coming from north of the 49th parallel, it’s tantalizing to imagine what they could do with those 4 international spots, which give Smyrniotis a dangerous trump card to play around with.

But, as he said earlier, he and his staff have already mostly decided how to fill those spots, they just need to wrap up the negotiations and make the announcements. 

So for now, while all of that wraps up, he’ll continue to run his training camp without worry, ramping up the intensity day-by-day. By all accounts, it’s been a good start to training again, and considering their play last year, they have a leg up on the competition already. 

And with those international signings looming, it will only give his team a boost, only bolstering a project that Smyrniotis says is quite advanced.

The others may be getting closer, but Forge is already off-and-running, so their rivals will have to catch up before even thinking of pulling ahead.

“Yeah, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel from day one,” he said Thursday.  “And I think that’s the most important thing. You want some continuity in your group. We had a successful season last year, from beginning to end, so from that end, we don’t need to make a lot of changes. There’s been a lot of changes in the league.”

“And I think with some of the clubs, they’re trying to make sure that they get better, but for us, it’s just about tweaking things, bringing in some quality that’ll be coming in over the next week or so, but other than that, it’s just taking the positives from last year and making sure we can increase that going into this season.”

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