Yes folks, we made it. The 2021 Canadian Premier League final is right around the corner, kicking off this Sunday at 4:30 pm ET. First-time single-leg finals hosts Forge FC look to win a third straight championship, while first-time finalists Pacific FC hope to spoil the Tim Hortons Field party.
The Challengers: Pacific FC
Pa-Modou Kah’s Langford B.C.-based side deserve to be there…based on the season as a whole. They excelled in the post-bubble portion of the 2021 campaign, surging to first place in the table and remaining there for large chunks of the fall section. A month after the return to home markets, they toppled the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship, eliminating Kah’s former MLS team from the tournament. Team Van Isle kept it tight with Forge and Cavalry FC in a three-way race for first until a few games left in the season.
Based solely on Pacific’s semifinal vs Cavalry at Spruce Meadows however, it’s far less clear whether they deserved to advance. Cavs looked far more likely to break the 1-1 deadlock through the second half and into Extra Time, until Kunle Dada-Luke squeezed home the winner on a highly controversial play in 105 a.e.t. that is still too close to call:
GOAL— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) November 20, 2021
DRAMA on the 105-minute mark of this 2021 #CanPL PLAYOFF clash, as @PacificFCCPL get the go-ahead goal vs. @CPLCavalryFC by the narrowest of margins
Kunle Dada-Luke finishes a wonderful transition, stunning the Cavs!
TELUS ch. 980 | https://t.co/hishXepRT3 pic.twitter.com/t7TiT4FrIJ
That controversy won’t bother Pacific in the slightest. Their mental toughness saw them through a long and complicated season. Their 47 goals were league-best for the regular season, and they’ll be grateful to have standout defender Lukas MacNaughton back from suspension. League superstar Marco Bustos is still listed as day-to-day after an injury-plagued business end of the season. Going into Sunday’s final, Pacific won’t let public perceptions of underdog status hold them down:
Defending Champs: Forge FC
Kah is surely attending to his team’s pregame mentality: Pacific really are the underdogs here. When it comes to Forge FC, the words “juggernaut” and “dynasty” are beginning to emerge. Kyle Bekker, Tristan Borges and Mo Babouli lead a goal-scoring committee that mixes youthful energy with calm, veteran experience. Their league-leading 11 clean sheets and 24 goals conceded show how tough they are to break down at the back. Cavalry and Pacific may have kept it tight near the end, but Bobby Smyrniotis’ side was still able to clinch first overall with a few games to spare. They took eventual Canadian Championship winners CF Montreal to the last kick of the penalty shootout, and became the first CPL team to earn a berth in the Concacaf Champions League with their Concacaf League quarterfinal win over Santos de Guapiles of Costa Rica.
They made the CPL final via a convincing 3-1 win over York United. Forge dominated chances throughout the first half but went to the locker room with the game knotted at 1-1. The hosts then brought their experience to bear in the second half, ultimately breaking down the youthful GTA side. Joshua Navarro netted the cool 65th minute game-winner after a well-worked passing play, and the rest was history.
On Sunday, they’ll have their home crowd, their complete team play and their unquestionable pedigree. You can bet Forge FC are feeling confident going in that when we reach the final whistle, they’ll continue to be the only champion in CPL’s short history. The one question lingering among Hamilton’s footy faithful is their match fitness, after a grueling two-legged loss to FC Motagua in the Concacaf league semifinal that was interspersed with league play. Will they be exhausted against a more rested Pacific FC, or will they be all the hungrier to win their third league championship in as many years? For Bekker, the answer is clear:
Find out if he’s right this Sunday, December 5 at 4:30 pm ET at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, ON, and on OneSoccer.