As the city prepares for the 2019 Ticats season, perhaps it’s time to shed some light on the other Canadian football team in the Hammer.

As the city prepares for the 2019 Ticats season, perhaps it’s time to shed some light on the other Canadian football team in the Hammer.

The Canadian Premier League is Canada’s top professional soccer league and is currently in it’s inaugural season. Plans for the CPL began long before the rumours of a potential league began to swirl in 2013. On May 6, 2018 the CPL would be unanimously approved by the Canadian Soccer Association. This was a major step for Canadian soccer as this means that we were finally getting our own domestic soccer league. A league where young Canadians can play and develop. A league that even younger Canadians can aspire to play in.

While Major League Soccer does feature three Canadian teams, it is technically an American league. The CPL has seven teams, all from coast to coast in Canada, including Hamilton’s Forge FC. In addition to this, the CPL says they plan to expand from seven teams to 16 teams by 2026 with expansion potentially beginning as soon as 2020. 

One major difference between the CPL and MLS (and other major North American leagues) is that the CPL has adopted a club model, as oppose to a franchise model. This helps ensure that teams will have more grass roots engagement within their communities. Furthermore this allows for the possibility of promotion and relegation in the future, a system that is used in soccer leagues throughout the world. 

So what exactly does the Canadian Premier League mean for Canadian soccer? Well as long suffering fans of the Canadian Men’s national team will tell you, they’ve just had trouble getting enough talent, at least talent that wants to play for the national team. Calgary’s Owen Hargreaves went overseas to play for Bayern Munich and Manchester United before declaring his loyalties with England’s national team. Scarborough’s Jonathan de Guzman got to play in a World Cup Final for the Netherlands after committing to play for them over his home country in 2013.

This is where the CPL comes in. The goal of the CPL is to give Canadian players a place to play, develop and grow. In order to ensure the development of these young Canadians, each CPL team is limited to seven international players and must have six Canadians in their starting 11. Furthermore, each team is required to give 1,000 minutes of playing time to players under the age of 21. This ensures that young Canadians will be getting minutes that they otherwise would have struggled to get overseas, due to similar rules in other leagues.

The CPL will also give something for young Canadians to aspire to. A kid growing up in Hamilton can now has a realistic path to play professional soccer. A kid who had no interest in soccer before, now has a team playing in his back yard, a team that he can look up to, a team full of guys that were once just like him.

On the pitch, the structure of the CPL season is a bit unique as there are actually two seasons and no playoffs. There’s a 10 game spring season and an 18 game fall season. The winner of the spring season will host the winner of the fall season in the Canadian Premier League Championship in October.

In addition to the CPL season, there are a few other competitions that the clubs participate in. First, there is the Canadian Championship which is a domestic cup tournament —  similar to the FA cup in England, where Canadian teams from MLS, the United Soccer League and various other minor and semi pro leagues compete for the Voyageurs Cup. The winner of the Voyageurs Cup gets a berth in Concacaf Champions League (more on that later).

There is also the Concacaf League (not to be confused with Concacaf Champions League). This season, the CPL teams in Edmonton, Hamilton and Winnipeg will compete for a berth in the Concacaf League. In order to determine which CPL team gets into the Concacaf League, the three teams will play each other twice in the spring season with the team who has the most points in those four games advancing on. Starting next season, the winner of the Canadian Premier League Championship will enter the Concacaf League. The CPL representative will compete with clubs from all over North and Central America to get into Concacaf Champions League. 

Finally,  the Champions League is a competition where the best of the best in North and Central America compete to be crowned the best team in the region. 16 teams compete in the Champions League, with only one of those spots being guaranteed to a Canadian team (the Voyageurs Cup winner). 4 teams from Mexico and the U.S are awarded a spot in the tournament, they’re joined by one team from Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama with the final spot going to the winner of Concacaf League.

Closer to home,  Hamilton’s CPL representative is Forge FC. Forge was founded by Ticats owner Bob Young and was officially granted entrance into the CPL on May 6, 2017 as one of the original two teams. 

Young has been a staple in the Hamilton sports community, not only with Forge and the Ticats but with Tim Hortons Field. Located on Melrose avenue in east Hamilton, the field hosts both Forge and Ticats home games. Residing on the grounds that used to host Ivor Wynne Stadium, Tim Horton’s hasn’t lost the spirit of Hamilton, that the old building was famous for.

Personnel wise, Forge named Bobby Smyrniotis as their inaugural Head Coach in October 2018. Smyrniotis founded League1 Ontario superpower Sigma FC in 2005. At Sigma, Smyrniotis was known for his ability to develop young players into professionals. Smyrniotis coached future Forge players Emery Welshman and Canadian internationals Kyle Bekker and Kwame Awuah, all of which have spent time in MLS.

Smyrniotis also had a hand in the development of Canadian international Cyle Larin, who was selected first overall by Orlando in the 2015 MLS Superdraft. While at Orlando, Larin scored 43 goals in 87 games before eventually transferring to legendary Turkish club Besiktas in 2018. Larin has five goals in 15 appearances. 

In Smyrniotis, Forge has decided to go with a track record for developing talent, in hopes that he can have similar success developing players, this time at the professional level.

As for the players, Forge announced the first two signings, Kyle Bekker and Chris Nanco in November 2018. Bekker played under Smyrniotis at Sigma from 2007–2009 and was named the captain of Forge FC. The Oakville native also has experience for the Canadian national team, playing in 18 games since 2013. 

Forge has had a rather unlucky (but still successful) start to the season. They have dominated possession and carried the run of play in most, if not all of their five matches so far. However, with two wins, two losses and a draw to show for it, Forge sit in second place with seven points in the spring season. From here on out, Forge has little room for error if they hope to host the Canadian Premier League Championship at Tim Hortons field in October. 

As for the other two competitions, Forge won their first matchup against Valour and are tied with Edmonton with one win a piece. Forge will play their first Canadian Championship match on June 4 at Tim Hortons field against Cavalry FC. 

Forge’s next home match will take place at Tim Hortons Field, when they host FC Edmonton in a match that has both CPL and Concacaf League implications. After that match, they will have at least 10 more home matches this season. 

In Forge, Hamilton has an affordable entertainment option and offers fans the opportunity the be a part of something special from the very beginning. What started as a spark, has grown into a movement. V

The next game is on Saturday June 15, 5pm vs Valour FC at Tim Horton’s Field. 

Click on for complete schedule.

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