It all comes down to this.
After almost six weeks in Prince Edward Island, the 2020 Canadian Premier League season will come to an end on Saturday afternoon.
After a short, action-packed season, Forge FC will try to retain the North Star Shield, up against a new-look HFX Wanderers side that surprised many with their run to the final. The two teams had very different 2019 seasons, with HFX finishing last, and Forge winning it all.
There’s a lot at stake in this match. Not only will the winner be crowned the 2020 Canadian Premier League Champions, they’ll also be the league’s entrant in the 2021 CONCACAF League.
The winner will also take on Toronto FC in the 2020 Canadian Championship final for the Voyageurs Cup, with a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League on the line.
Simply put, this is one of the most important matches in Canadian club soccer history.
These two sides have already met twice before at The Island Games, and drawn both times, but on Saturday there must be a winner.
Both sides have strong centre of the parks and will lean on their midfielders heavily in this one. Forge have a midfield that is expected to include Kyle Bekker, Paolo Sabak and Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson. That is, on paper, one of the best midfields in the CPL, as Bekker and Achinioti-Jonsson are proven CPL players (and winners), while Sabak is capable of producing a bit of magic and tearing apart defenders.
HFX’s comes close in terms of talent with Aboubacar Sissoko, Andre Rampersad and João Morelli expected to start for the Wanderers. That trio doesn’t even include Louis Béland-Goyette, who was one of the biggest free agent signings of the offseason. Sissoko and Rampersad are physical and win a lot of their battles, while Morelli is one of the best attacking midfielders in the league.
The midfield is where this match may be won or lost, and while Forge’s group has more CPL experience, HFX are here for a reason.
HFX: Andre Rampersad, Akeem Garcia, João Morelli
HFX have had a brilliant season, especially considering the fact that they overturned most of their roster following their inaugural 2019 campaign.
The Wanderers have been led up top by Akeem Garcia and João Morelli. Garcia, a finalist for the Player of the Year award, leads the league with six goals and will likely be the Golden Boot winner. He's scored in both games against Forge this season.
Morelli is in third place with four goals, meaning the duo have combined for two thirds (10/15) of the goals the club has scored in 2020. They link up well together, and with the players around them, and the duo have been clinical in front of goal. They'll need to be sharp to break down the sturdy Forge defenders on Saturday.
While his efforts might not get him nominated for end-of-season awards, Andre Rampersad is crucial to HFX Wanderers. In his first season as club captain, he has played all 10 matches at these Island Games, and established himself as one of the better midfielders in the league. He's consistent on both sides of the ball, and leads the CPL in duels won.
Forge: Kyle Bekker, Daniel Krutzen and Paolo Sabak
Former Toronto FC midfielder Kyle Bekker has again been one of the best players in the CPL, as shown by his second straight Player of the Year nomination. The Forge FC captain can do it all: score, provide assists for his teammates, and get stuck in defensively. He may be the best player on the pitch on Saturday, and if he plays like it, Forge will be in a good position to win.
Daniel Krutzen has had another great season for Forge FC in 2020. The Belgian centre-back has started every match during The Island Games, and will be one of the first names on Bobby Smyniotis’ team sheet on Saturday. Not only one of the best defenders in the league, Krutzen has also found his name among the goalscorers this year, finding the back of the net twice, including once from the penalty spot.
New recruit Paolo Sabak has been a bit inconsistent at times, but when he's on his game, there are few players in the league more talented than him. He's also the only Forge player to score against HFX this season, as he scored a penalty in each of the two matches these sides played.
What They’re Saying
Here are a collection of the best quotes from players, coaches and Commissioner David Clanachan from Friday’s media event.
MVP candidate Kyle Bekker spoke about rumours linking him with moves to other clubs, including the Vancouver Whitecaps.
HFX goalkeeper Christian Oxner, one of the best in the league and a nominee for the Golden Glove award, discussed practising for a potential penalty shootout:
"I don't let these guys take too many on me because I don't want to hurt their confidence." - Christian Oxner joking about practicing penalties in training ahead of #CanPL Final— Charlie O'Connor-Clarke (@charliejclarke) September 18, 2020
Wanderers Head Coach Stephen Hart was asked about his (heavily-rotated) side’s 5-0 loss to Pacific FC earlier this week, and about the fan support back in Halifax.
"Football without fans is just sweating." - Stephen Hart shouts out the HFX Wanderers fans supporting from back home. #CanPL— Charlie O'Connor-Clarke (@charliejclarke) September 18, 2020
Forge FC Head Coach Bobby Smyrniotis had some high praise for his team:
Smyrniotis asked about season structures and if winning two titles would solidify Forge's claim to being top dog after Cavalry won regular season last year. "In 2019 there was one champion. Forge FC." #CanPL— Oliver Platt (@plattoli) September 18, 2020
Smyrniotis asked about players going to a higher level: "Kwame Awuah is the best left-back (in the #CanPL). Proved it in this tournament. Daniel Krutzen: what more do you want in a centre-back? David Choiniere's been excellent. Paolo Sabak's a player who's got immense quality."— Oliver Platt (@plattoli) September 18, 2020
And, an update on plans for the 2021 CPL season from the Commissioner
If possible, the 2021 #CanPL season will look exactly how the 2020 format was supposed to look, according to Commissioner David Clanachan.— Benedict Rhodes (@BTFR17) September 18, 2020
.#CanPL Commissioner David Clanachan tells reporters at CPL Final Media Day that he hopes to start the 2021 season in April, hopefully with fans.— Benedict Rhodes (@BTFR17) September 18, 2020
Despite their struggles, HFX have been a tough match for Forge over the last two seasons, with each side winning once to go along with four draws.
Both matches at The Island Games have finished with the points being split, ending 1-1 both times. Paolo Sabak and Akeem Garcia scored the goals in both games, for Forge and HFX respectively.
Highlights from the first-round match on August 19
Highlights from the Group Stage match on September 9
How To Watch
This match is available live on OneSoccer and CBC at 2 p.m. EST.