“We’re scratching the surface here”: FC Edmonton end off tough 2021 CPL season on a high note with 1-0 victory over Forge

FC Edmonton took on Forge FC in Canadian Premier League action at Edmonton’s Clarke Stadium on Saturday. Here’s our match report from that one. 

It was a nice way for them to close out what has been a rough season for them. 

On a windy afternoon at their home field, Clarke Stadium, FC Edmonton closed out their 2021 Canadian Premier League campaign on a high note on Saturday, where they did well to pick up a 1-0 victory over league-leaders, Forge FC. 

While it might mean nothing in the overall context of their season, as they’ll still miss out on the CPL playoffs for the 3rd straight year, it was a nice way to end things off, as they gave their home fans one last thing to cheer about this season. 

After a hard year for the club, it’s never a bad thing to end with a win, and they’re well aware of that, as they’ll look to take this into the offseason now. 

“I’m very happy to see our players, our supporters, our staff and our club get rewarded,” FC Edmonton’s head coach, Alan Koch, said after the game. “Our guys went out and executed exactly what we asked them to do, Easton (Ongaro) had a very special moment, and we got three points against the best team in the league, so it was a very gratifying way for us as a club to finish off the season.”

Plus, along with the fact that this result also ensured that they’d avoid being back-to-back Wooden Spoon winners, which is the designation given to the team who finishes last in the league, that’s also a bonus, too, one that isn’t lost on this team. 

So even though this season didn’t go the way they wanted it to, with it only being their first year under Koch, they’ll be expected to turn it around next year, allowing them to finally push up into the top half of the standings. 

“There’s a lot of extra work we have to do (this offseason)” Koch continued. “We’re not exactly over the moon that we finished 7th in the league, we want to do bigger and better things, as I think we’re just scratching the surface here.”

And if they’re to do that, they got a nice taste of what it takes to do so in this game against Forge, who are back-to-back Canadian Premier League champions and current favourites heading into the playoffs, fresh off of making a nice run to the semi-finals of the Canadian Championship, as well as the semi-finals of CONCACAF League, earning a berth into the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League in the process.

They’ve been a team to beat in the CPL ever since the league kicked off, so while this game was quite meaningless to them, having already locked up home advantage for the playoffs, they still wanted to come out strong in this game. 

Knowing that the playoffs are just around the corner, as well as their CONCACAF League semi-final matchup, they knew that even if this clash with Edmonton wasn’t a must-win game, it was one where they could certainly continue to establish good habits ahead of those games, while also giving a run to some players who haven’t gotten as much playing time this year. 

So for them to succeed in the latter, and do a decent job of the former, Forge feels that they took a good step towards what lies ahead for them, making this an overall positive game from their perspective, even if the result didn’t go their way. 

“I thought we were a bit off of our game,” Forge head coach, Bobby Smyrniotis, said after the game. “We just didn’t create enough in the final third, we didn’t have our usual spark there. But, at the same time, we’re happy that we’ve seen some players play out there today who haven’t played a lot lately.”

He added: “I think it’s important that in these games we have that we know where everyone is going into this next stretch of games that are going to be very important for us, so barring that one little thing that happened there where we got scored on, it was overall good, we’re happy with the performances of the guys.”

And speaking of the game itself, it was a strange one, because while there were certainly some memorable moments, it felt like a match that was played without the usual intensity that these sorts of games bring, really making it feel like a dead rubber match. 

But at the same time, that doesn’t mean there weren’t moments of brilliance, either. 

First, Tristan Borges almost got the show going for Forge right in the first minute, as he did well to dance through some defenders and unleash a vicious shot, but he sent his attempt just over the Edmonton goal. 

Then, Tobias Warschewski had a nice attempt of his own in the 10th minute but he just couldn’t wrap his foot around the strike, making it a comfortable save for Forge’s Baj Maan. 

And continuing the theme of almost-nice goals, Forge’s Paolo Sabak then went for the spectacular himself in the 20th minute, doing well to turn a defender inside out before unleashing a vicious left-footed strike from well outside the box, only sending it just over the goal. 

Other than that, though, it was a pretty quiet first half for both teams, who just couldn’t get a foothold on the match, and based on how they were playing, didn’t seem intent on doing so. 

Edmonton’s Fraser Aird and Forge’s Chris Nanco battle for the ball on Saturday (Beau Chevalier) (IG: @shotby.beau, Twitter: @beauchevalier_)

But then, to give credit to Edmonton, they started to change that in the second half. 

First, Azriel Gonzalez nearly scored a memorable goal in the 57th minute, as he turned a defender inside out before releasing a wicked curled shot from just inside of the box, but he sent his attempt just wide of the goal. 

Not long after, Jeannot Esua had a great look at goal of his own, as he did well to find space inside of the box to unleash an attempt on goal, but his shot would be sent right at Maan, who didn’t really have to move to make a save. 

And then, off of the back of that pressure, the Eddies found their breakthrough in the 76th minute. 

After a nice ball into striker Easton Ongaro from Hunter Gorskie, Ongaro did well to turn his defender inside out with a deft turn, and from there, facing down Maan on his left foot, the all-time CPL leading scorer made no mistake with the chance, adding to his record by scoring his 25th career goal, and 12th of this season, without a second thought. 

Thanks to that, it gave something for the Edmonton faithful to cheer about, allowing them to celebrate their hometown star one last time, even if it’s not in the circumstances they would’ve wanted to do so in. 

“The final game of the year, obviously you want to go out on a high note,” Ongaro said afterwards. “And it feels good to get a goal in front of my friends and family, it was a nice way to end things (this year)”

And from there, Edmonton managed to hold on and pick up the win, giving them something to celebrate with their fans after the match. 

It might not have been their greatest game, but a win over Forge is never something to turn your nose at, and while it might be months until this Edmonton team does anything meaningful on a soccer pitch, they’ll now hope that they can use this victory as fuel to have a good offseason. 

“It’s always nice to win,” Koch said. “It was a tough game for us, we rotated a few players, had to make some changes, and we had to adjust a little bit how we wanted to play, but I think our plan worked today.” 

Over with Forge, however, their focus remains firmly planted on the big games that lie ahead for them, as they look to make it 3 for 3 in terms of ‘North Star Shields’ in the CPL, while also continuing their historic run in CONCACAF League, where they’ve already made so much noise. 

The class of the league these past few years, their season will be defined by those events, and they’re aware of that, so while this loss will sting a bit, they know what now lies ahead for them, and are doing their best to make the most of those games when they do come around.

“We’re getting into a very tough stretch of games here,” Smyrniotis said. “Going into playoffs, and with CONCACAF League, it’s very important to know where some of the guys are at both physically in their sharpness, so we now know what we’ve got at their disposal now.”

Cover Photo via Beau Chevalier (IG: @shotby.beau) (Twitter: @beauchevalier_)

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