After doing well as a left-sided partnership in the 2nd half of the first-ever CPL season, Kwame Awuah and Chris Nanco are looking to take another step forward in year 2, as the two best friends get set to help Forge repeat as CPL champions in 2020.
During the 1st season of the Canadian Premier League, a couple of trends quickly emerged.
One of those things that people quickly picked up on? The value of continuity, familiarity and chemistry.
So in a sense, it was no surprise to see Forge FC finish the 2020 season atop the CPL pyramid, with only their rivals Cavalry really able to put themselves beside them, as the two sides quickly showed that they were a class above the rest of their Canadian opposition.
Heading into year 2, a season which promises to be a lot more interesting than the first one, it’s unsure how that between the teams will look this year.
With many teams making big changes, as a mass turnover of players and coaching staff realignments significantly altered the DNA of several sides around the CPL, can Forge keep up their perch as CPL champions?
If you ask them, they certainly think so, as they preach the value of their continued chemistry, something that helped them so much last year.
“Yeah, I mean you can see the difference,” winger Chris Nanco told BTSVancity last week. “Especially last year, you can see the difference in chemistry in teams. I think since we have a big core coming back, you’re going to see a lot of chemistry right off the bat. And 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.”
Instead of building from zero, they’ve set themselves a baseline, allowing them to hit the ground running, avoiding having to start from scratch.
“I think it’s important because honestly, you like continuity, and a lot of guys have a lot of chemistry on and off the field,” left back Kwame Awuah told BTS. “And we all like to play the same type of football and we’ll have a good connection with the coaching staff. So I think that’s important. So we can always just pick up where we left off and try to better ourselves from last year to this year.”
Speaking of Awuah and Nanco, it’s fitting that they both referenced the chemistry of their team, as their friendship is a big example of that.
Last year during the CPL finals, and even starting long before that, Awuah and Nanco wreaked some havoc down the left wing, making it a position of strength for Forge last season. With Nanco’s tricky dribbling ability, along with Awuah’s desire to burst forward and play that dangerous final ball from full back, it gives Forge a veritable left-sided threat, one that opened up space for their attackers in the middle of the pitch.
So even though they’ve lost someone like Tristan Borges, the league’s inaugural MVP, Golden Boot winner and U21 player of the year, who so often operated as Forge’s dangerman both in the middle and out on the right-hand side, they still have that solidity on the left, which should help make the transition to life after Borges a little easier.
When a player of Borges’s ilk leaves, you need new faces to step up and fill the void, and from what we saw last year, Awuah and Nanco look ready to do just that. With both players still under the age of 25, they’ve yet to fully reach their potential as players, so look for them to take another step towards doing that this year, all while making that left wing there’s to wreak havoc upon.
Having played together for nearly a decade and a half, it’s something that shouldn’t be too hard to imagine them doing.
“Yeah, I mean, me and Kwame, we’ve been playing against each other since we were little kids,” Nanco said. “And then we ended up going to Sigma and playing on the same team together, and then against each other again in college, and now back on Forge playing with each other. So, yeah, we’ve definitely known each other for a lot of years, and there’s definitely that chemistry there.”
Awuah later added: “I’m pretty sure Chris probably mentioned that me and him have known each other since probably around 10 years old, playing against each other, and then joining Sigma at 13 together, it’s always been the same thing.”
“We’re close friends off the field, we all have the same group of friends, and we hang out with each other all the time off the field, and I think that bond off the field shows up on the field.”
For Forge’s head coach, Bobby Smyrnitois, it’s a partnership he can’t wait to see more of this year. As we saw throughout last season, he wasn’t one to get carried away by goals or assists, instead preferring to evaluate the overall performances of his players, with consistency being a big theme of his throughout last year.
That’s why once Forge’s summer injury swoon was over, and he had a full lineup to choose from, he chose Awuah and Nanco as the ones to help lockdown that left side, which they certainly did, doing so right into the crunch games of the season.
Considering that Smyrniotis described them as ‘two of the best players in the league’, expect to see a lot more of them this year, this time starting from first kick, giving the league a bigger taste of what they have to offer.
“Yeah, they’re two very important players for us,” Smyrnitois told BTS. “They were two very important players for us last year, and they remain two very important players for us this year. And you look at the halfway/midway point of last year, and into the second part of the season, I think they’re two of the best players in the league.”
“Kwame had to come in and play in midfield for us with some of the injuries the guys to Elimane Cisse and Alexander Johnson at some points, but him playing at that left, back spot with Nanco in front of them gives us a fantastic one-two punch. That gives a lot of problems to opponents and at the end of the day, that’s what you want as a team, you want to be able to pose a lot of problems to your opponents, and that they have to adjust their game to you.”
But even despite the expectations of their coach, don’t expect the fun-loving Awuah and Nanco to change their ways. On this day during week 1 of their training camp, they’re in good spirits, both having a laugh as they leave the pitch, clearly happy with how things have gone so far.
And that ‘joie de vivre’ extends onto a football pitch. When the lights turn on, they’re intense, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying the little moments that a game has to offer, as they seem to relish each kick, tackle and pass that they get the chance to complete.
So in a sense, it shows why they work together. They try to bring each other up whenever possible, be it through words of encouragement or other positive gestures, knowing full well that if something goes wrong, it’s not reflective of the other’s quality as a football player.
It’s why when Nanco was defensively challenged in a dangerous position in the first leg of the final against Cavalry, he attempted an audacious roulette, opening up plenty of space for him to then tee up Borges, who fired their team ahead with a lovely finish.
With his partner at crime sitting right behind, pushing him forward when needed, it gave him the confidence to show off his skill, which as said by Awuah, is a byproduct of their desire to push the other on whenever possible.
“We hold each other accountable,” Awuah said. “And I’m probably one of his biggest cheerleaders, as he is mine, and I think that’s an important thing. We’re always pushing each other to become better, whether it’s him, like sometimes I tell him: ‘There’s two guys on you, like, take it, who cares, show them what you can do’, and there’s just a belief system.”
“And I think that’s an important thing. So the chemistry that we have is something that we don’t take for granted actually. I always try to tell Bobby (Smrynitois) and we started taking advantage of it and I think that’s an important thing.”
So starting in a month’s time, when the CPL’s second season kicks off with a rematch of Forge vs Cavalry, look for Smyrniotis and his team to come out strong, pushed on by the play of Awuah and Nanco.
As said by the winger, they’ve given the league a little taste of what they have to offer, now they want to start showing off the whole buffet.
“Always whenever we’re matched up with each other on the left side in practice, we say: ‘left side strong side’,” Nanco said. “So yeah, it’s a good partnership, that me and him have and good chemistry. We’re best friends on the field and off the field.”
“So I’m excited to see what we can do this year, as last year, especially in the finals, was just a little taste of what we have to bring.”