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My experience at the Inaugural Canadian Premier League Game

It was a historic day for Canadian soccer.

CPL: York9 FC at Forge FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports for CPL

April 27th was a big day for Canadian soccer. The Canadian Premier League finally kicked off at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. It was a pretty chilly game, the temperature at the stadium being around 3 degrees Celsius and the wind making it feel even colder.

Their was a lot of buzz around the stadium, there were quite a few fans who already had Forge FC jerseys and scarfs already — so they were well prepared for the game. The mood was really positive overall.

When I got in the stadium, I went to go get a Forge FC scarf, but it ended up being that they completely sold out of scarves as they had a sale on all scarves at the stadium for that match — and scarves are one of the biggest sellers for most soccer teams anyway. Too bad that they underestimated the sales, but it’s great that they sold so many scarves in the first game. The weird part is since they sold out they even unlisted them on the website, which leaves me asking more questions. Anyway I ended up getting a nice ‘Forge FC Hamilton’ t-shirt which was pretty nice instead. I found it was quite amazing how many people who were ready to splash $110 for a jersey; I know the team just started so many people will be buying one if they haven’t got one yet, but I was surprised to see just how many wanted one. Goes to show you that if you actually make unique (looking at you, Adidas and Nike) jerseys that look real nice you can sell a lot of them. Instead of copy and pasting the same away kit design for something like 15 teams and saying that it “echoes the plentiful snow in Colorado” or say that it is “fan inspired”; Maybe the kit designer can put a little more effort into the kit design as opposed to justifying a boring design. Enough of my rant.

Anyway, onto the stadium. When I got into my seat, I found myself on the shorter side of Tim Hortons’ Field, above the Forge FC supporters’ section. It was kind of odd as although most of the stadium was full, my area was quite empty. As I looked around, it was nice to see the Niagara escarpment to my left and to the right I could look right out on the landscape of the surrounding neighborhood. You don’t see as much of that at BMO Field because of course there are substantially sized stands on 3 sides of the stadium, and roofs as well. They had a bit of standing section right behind one of the goals, which was actually very full, and should have provided a nice atmosphere for the fans there. A bit of a funny point was that one of the score boards showed how many downs there were left, of course that part wasn’t being used, though I found that kind of funny as of course CFL team the Hamilton Tiger-Cats play there. I’m not used to watching soccer in football stadiums. Us TFC fans are a little spoiled with our stadium situation in comparison to other Canadian and MLS teams.

When the pre-match ceremonies kicked off it was very exciting. They showed a video with a message from CPL commissioner David Clanachan, and came out and showed the Canadian Premier League logo, came out with the Canadian and CanPL flags, and later came showing the logos of all 7 Canadian Premier League teams. Enhances with a few fireworks to add to the excitement. They started using blue and green smoke bombs representing the league’s colours, and then used a ton of orange smoke bombs for Forge FC.

CPL: York9 FC at Forge FC
Forge FC’s supporters group, the Barton Street Battalion.
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports for CPL

The York 9 FC fans were placed opposite of the Barton Street Battalion (the Forge FC supporters’ group), but since the Forge FC supporters’ group was so loud (and I was sitting right above them), I couldn’t really hear them. Though from what I heard from others who went to the game, they were also really loud. I saw many of them standing up and they seemed to have decently filled 2 sections of the stadium.

Then the players came onto the pitch with great applause from the fans. More notable players like Kyle Bekker (formerly of Toronto FC) of Forge FC, Kyle Porter of York 9, Manny Aparicio of York 9 (also from Toronto FC) and Kwadwe Awuah (formerly of NYCFC) of Forge FC made it to the starting eleven of the 2 teams. Also of note, Dave Gantar was the referee, and although he is not liked to much at BMO Field, he did a decent job in my opinion reffing this game — funny enough the game (spoiler alert) still ended with a red card, which if you’ve watched him before he seems to never end a game without.

CPL: York9 FC at Forge FC
Kyle Bekker behind referee Dave Gantar.
(Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports for CPL)

The game started. The CanPL began finally, and basically the first highlight of the game started with the first ever York 9 goal, and the first ever CanPL game by who other than Ryan Telfer, who is on loan from Toronto FC. It was a pretty nice goal by York 9, and they capitalized well on poor defending by the Forge defence, which was quite shaky at first. I was kind of the odd one out in my section because I was excited when he scored although I was cheering a little bit for Forge FC — but hey, I’m a lot more of a fan of the league as opposed to a fan of Forge FC, as I’m want to cheer for a team in my region eventually.

Yup, it was scored in the third minute alright — tell that to any of your friends who don’t like soccer and tell you that it takes ‘days’ to score a goal in soccer game.

After that goal, I would say for a while, perhaps until the twentieth minute York 9 was outplaying Forge FC; not to the extent where I would say they were dominating, but to the extent where I was thinking Forge FC’s defence had a lot to be desired of. Though they did shape up their defence after that, and then the chances started to come. There was one particularly good attempt within the first 20 minutes for Forge FC despite them not playing too well, and that was from another striker on loan from an MLS side in FC Cincinnati, Emery Welshman. Who you may not know but was drafted originally by Toronto FC a while back. The chance was actually a lot better than just ‘good’, he almost scored a bicycle kick for heaven’s sake just 3 minutes after the first goal. Now that would’ve been a good first ever goal for Forge FC.

The fans started to get into the game the more chances Forge FC got. Meanwhile I got to listen to the Barton Street Battalion chants from below. At times they were quite repetitive with certain chants, but you could make the same argument about Toronto FC’s ‘TFC’ chant as well I suppose. Of course they’ll come up with some new ones along the way. Some were pretty funny though — depending on whose side of the joke you are on. They had some of the regular ones like “Who are we? Forge FC!” to rally the crowd on, but they even had a few really funny ones like when they cheered “Dig a hole and bury him!” whenever York 9’s players were injured (or potentially pretending to be injured shall I say) as well as a more controversial chant that I heard at one point in the game when they started chanting at the York 9 fans “Inebriatti rejects!”. Something that many TFC fans will be familiar with. One thing I appreciated about the Barton St. Battalion was that they didn’t copy chants like “Oh when the Saints go marching in” - I like the song, but too be honest it feels like it’s been copied and pasted 500 times with a few small adjustments for every single pro soccer team’s fan base to sing.

The game continued with many chances going through the twentieth minute as Forge FC started to get more chances than York 9 FC, and from there on they outplayed York 9 just couldn’t finish their chances.

Since this a Toronto FC blog, I feel a little obliged to talk about the former Toronto FC players, and how they played:

Kyle Bekker (Forge FC): He had a bit of an odd performance. On one end he shot terribly whenever he got a chance (which was similar to how he was at Toronto FC), but on the other hand he seemed to be one of the main figures in the midfield, and performed quite well in that role.

CPL: York9 FC at Forge FC
Kyle Bekker controls the ball while Manuel Aparicio is pressuring him.
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports for CPL

Ryan Telfer (York 9): Played quite well, especially because he scored the first goal in CanPL history with a solid finish. He added a bit of energy to the York 9 attack.

Emery Welshman (Forge FC): Had a nice bicycle kick that missed by a whisker, and added some quality to the Forge FC attack. He lacked finishing abilities at in this game though.

Manuel Aparicio: To be honest, I didn’t really notice him on the field because I found it was a little hard to pick him out of all the York 9 players. Though when he got a second yellow card in the dying embers of the game he did not start of his career in the CanPL in the greatest way. That marks the first red card in CanPL history. Heck, even when he was sent off I found myself asking, “Who’s that?”.

Anyway the game continued, getting chances for both sides, almost always for Forge FC — but they couldn’t seem to finish there chances. So perhaps Forge FC manager Bobby Smyrniotis will be getting his team to do shooting practice over the next few weeks.

There was one chance that they finished though, by 22-year-old Kadell Thomas:

This marked the first ever goal in Forge FC history — it was needed to rally the fans supporting Hamilton. The game would’ve been pretty bland if it ended 1-0 to the away side from a goal in the third minute. So we can thank Kadell Thomas for putting the ball in the back of the net if you’re supporting Forge FC or just wanted a more exciting game (like me) for you to watch.

The game finished 1-1 at Tim Hortons’ Field, the fans satisfied (somewhat) with a hard fought draw, but overall there was a bigger picture at stake — the start of a top flight-professional league for Canada only.

One thing to note as well was the attendance — for me it seemed like there was a good turnout, especially in the section where people actually paid for tickets. On the other hand, where people got tickets for free there was not amazing turnout, but there was decent turnout. I do not believe that Forge FC sold out the tickets for the game even with giving free tickets, but I cannot confirm that. I have a feeling quite a few people who got free tickets decided to not come because of the chilly weather, which is unfortunate. The attendance was 17 611, which is a pretty good attendance total, and seems pretty accurate to what it looked like at the stadium.

Overall the game was a really good experience and will be something that I can say 20 years into the future: “I was at the first ever Canadian Premier League game”. It’s really exciting to be a Canadian soccer fan in this day in age, with Alphonso Davies playing for Bayern Munich to Canadian players like Jonathan Osorio getting higher salary contracts in MLS. We have gotten very far over the past few years, but now is time to make the next steps. If we can rally around our respective CanPL and Canadian MLS teams — we could be looking at an even better future for Canadian soccer than we’ve ever seen before. So promote Canadian soccer, and keep having faith in the development of the sport in Canada. You can make a difference.

Me pitch-side after the game.

If any of you want a visual experience of the inaugural game I did upload a video on my YouTube channel of the game, showing my experiences and things that I noted while at the game: