Forge has gone back to back, and the path to each title has shared similar traits. At this stage, it seems fair to say that Bobby Smyrniotis has figured out a championship-winning formula and the rest of the Canadian Premier League is yet to find an answer to it.
Last year, Forge beat Cavalry 1-0 in the final game of the regular season and then won both legs of the final by the same scoreline. This year, they once again lifted the North Star Shield on the back of three consecutive clean sheets, beating Pacific and Cavalry to seal their place in the final before seeing off HFX Wanderers.
Forge did not score three goals in a game once at the Island Games, but they also never failed to score. And that’s enough when you’re capable of locking things down as effectively as they do in the games that matter.
“When it’s crunch time, they know how to get it done,” Smyrniotis told OneSoccer after the final whistle against Halifax. “That’s the easiest way for me to put it. When they get turned on and they want something, they go after it and they get it.”
How exactly do they get it done? Put very simplistically, there are four ways to score a goal:
- Break down an organized defence
- Counter-attack against a disorganized defence
- Capitalize on an opposition mistake (this often overlaps with #2)
- Set pieces
When it hits crunch time, as Smyrniotis put it, Forge takes extra care to take away #2, #3, and #4, leaving its opponent to try to figure out #1. Logically, because the defence is prepared and in position, that’s by far the most difficult way to create high-quality chances.
The especially important one is #2, because playing ‘in transition’ — i.e. when possession changes hands and the team losing the ball has to quickly switch from attacking organization to defensive organization — has become such an essential aspect of modern football.
It was also what Cavalry and HFX Wanderers were very good at in their respective runs to the final. Both of the goals Halifax scored against Forge earlier in the tournament came from transition situations: