Like everything else during these pandemic times, the sports world has been forced to be incredibly adaptable.
Rule changes, flexible and unique schedules, and disjointed formats have become commonplace as leagues try to play out their seasons in a reasonably safe way while maintaining a level of competition. Nobody has quite got it perfect so far, and in some cases things haven’t exactly been fair, but such is life when adapting on the fly.
That brings us to the 2020 Canadian Championship final between Toronto FC and Forge FC, which will look significantly different than any of the conclusions to the previous 12 tournaments. For one, it will be the first single-game final in the competition’s history, as well as the first to feature a Canadian Premier League side. But that only scratches the surface of what promises to be a unique and compelling finale.
Foremost perhaps is this week’s revelation that the game will be played after the conclusion of Toronto FC’s season, and it could be December before a Canadian champion is crowned. For a multitude of reasons, that adds intrigue to the game.
It is a set of circumstances that definitely benefits Toronto FC, who will be coming into the game in form, over Forge who just wrapped up their domestic season. Canadian Premier League supporters have certainly taken notice of this fact, to say the least.
It’s not fair, per se, but neither is the competition for which these clubs are trying to qualify. The Concacaf Champions League notoriously pits out-of-practice MLS sides against in-season Liga MX teams. Elsewhere in the world, due to COVID-19, PSG hadn’t played a domestic season match in five months when they stepped onto the field for this year’s Champions League knockouts.
A combination of the Canadian Premier League taking so long to put together their 2020 season, international quarantine, and travel rules which have forced TFC to play out the rest of their MLS matches in Hartford make it hard to blame the CSA for their decision. Domestic seasons have to come first right now.
Toronto are also pushing to have the game played at BMO Field, although that seems unlikely considering the likely frigid date of the game as the aforementioned form advantages they already enjoy.
Forge comes out of things in a little bit better shape than the team they beat in the CanPL final, Halifax, would have been. If all goes to plan, they will have at least a few Concacaf League matches to play in October to keep them sharp for the final.
In the meantime, Forge will get the opportunity to do something incredibly rare in the world of sports. They will likely have several months to prepare for an opponent in a cup final. That means extra opportunity to prepare with video, tactically and even mentally.
This could go either way, focusing on the same opponent for that long could lead to overthinking tactically. Ask Pep Guardiola how dangerous that can be. Forge manager Bobby Smyrniotis is known for his tactical acumen, however, so it will be interesting to see how he uses this extra time to prepare. He has said publicly he hasn’t given much thought to the match yet, but we all know that probably isn’t true.
Another question is what sort of team Smyrniotis will be able to field for this final. Evidently, having this match against Toronto FC on the horizon should be incentive for players to stay. But there have already been rumours linking Kyle Bekker to the Vancouver Whitecaps, and a loss of that ilk would significantly alter Forge’s chances in the game.
Regardless of who is playing for Forge, they will have a point to prove for themselves and for the league in which they play. Bekker, Kwame Awuah, David Choinière, Max Tissot, David Edgar, and Mo Babouli all have MLS experience and will want to prove that they are still capable of playing at that level. Others who never got the chance will want to do the same, perhaps most of all the man who replaced Alejandro Pozuelo in his professional debut, former Genk player Paolo Sabak.
The state of Toronto FC at the end of their season will also be interesting. Having multiple cup finals at the end of the season is commonplace in Europe, but doesn’t really happen in MLS. Stepping off the field from an intense MLS playoff series, or even MLS Cup final, and then having to prepare for a Voyageurs Cup final could be tricky. Should they win and qualify for Concacaf, that would make for an incredibly short offseason.
So while there isn’t a day on the calendar yet that Canadian soccer fans can circle for the 2020 Canadian Championship final, there is plenty to be excited about. Like most sports events this year, this one is going to go down in the history books, potentially for a number of different reasons.