Canadian Premier League final: How do Forge and Cavalry stack up?
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When the dust settled on the Canadian Premier League's regular season last weekend, Calgary's Cavalry FC and Hamilton's Forge FC really didn't have much to separate one another.
The Cavs beat FC Edmonton on the final day to take the Fall title away from their championship opponent by a single point. A few days prior, Forge beat the Cavs to go top of the league.
Cavalry and Forge ended their season series tied: 3-1-3.
CPL's overall table? Combining both Spring and Fall? Cavalry beat Forge by a mere six points.
Forge FC and Cavalry FC will play for the eighth and ninth times this year in the upcoming Canadian Premier League final — starting Saturday in Hamilton (4 p.m. ET on CBC, CBCSports.ca, OneSoccer), with the second leg a week later in Calgary.
Each team has a league standout at each position. Daniel Krutzen or Dominick Zator? Kyle Bekker or Sergio Camargo? Tristan Borges or Nico Pasquotti? Both teams have plenty of quality options.
Let's take a deeper dive, looking at both teams position-by-position:
Triston Henry will likely get the start for Forge and rightly so. Several key saves over the past two Fall season meetings with Cavalry has seen his stock rise.
But it's not all about saves. Completing an average of 25 passes per match, the Scarborough native is one of the very best in the CPL at keeping the ball moving at the back. Henry completed 28 passes on a bumpy Spruce Meadows pitch back on Oct. 9, third-most for his side. Henry has improved over the season, too, as his tendency for the odd gaff has disappeared over the Fall campaign.
At the other end stands one of the most notable names in the CPL this season: Marco Carducci.
Much has been said about the 23-year-old, but here's a quick list to catch you up: leading the Volkswagen Premier Performer rankings for much of the season, a call-up to the Canadian national team, a Spring and Fall title, and a big win over his old club Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship.
ADVANTAGE CAVALRY: It's hard to look past the CPL's first Canadian call-up in Marco Carducci on this one. He has been smooth at the back for the league's best team in the regular season.
Forge's addition of David Edgar has given their backline a much-needed injection of solidity over these past few months. Bertrand Owundi, who is suspended for Leg 1, also offers something special as an oversized defender. But with Dom Samuel also out suspended, coach Bobby Smyrniotis will have to chop and change — not to say he doesn't have the players for it.
Cavalry's defensive unit is small (in numbers) but mighty. With Jay Wheeldon, Mason Trafford, Joel Waterman and Dominick Zator all healthy, their centre back core is thriving. Malyk Hamilton has been fantastic at left back. Nathan Mavila has been up to the task, too.
Don't forget about their aerial threat in the opposing box. That's helpful when you have Nico Pasquotti's long throw-in as part of your arsenal…
ADVANTAGE CAVALRY: The slightest tilt toward Alberta's final representative. Daniel Krutzen, Kwame Awuah, Edgar and Samuel make up a better backline on the day than Cavalry. But losing that seal in your home match due to suspension, you have to put Cavalry ahead here.
The Cavs' midfield won't let you breathe. Effective pressing from Elijah Adekugbe, Nik Ledgerwood – who may be injured for Leg 1 – and others have destroyed CPL sides all year. Then there's Julian Buscher, potentially the best attacking midfielder in the league. The German is in the top two or three CPLers in final third line-breaking passes (1.18 per 90 minutes), crosses (6.64 per 90 minutes), successful pressured passes (13.88 per 90 minutes) and relief receptions (16.48 per 90 minutes).
On the other hand, Forge has the right thing to counteract that, in theory; the best all-round possession and passing midfielders in the CPL, starting with captain Kyle Bekker. Their passing and quick movement make them tough to undo. However, likely without Alexander Achinoti-Jönsson due to concussion concerns, Forge is missing the solid defensive presence that helped them to score via effective passing play.
ADVANTAGE FORGE: If Elimane Cisse, Kwame Awuah and Elimane Cisse start as a midfield three, Forge could have a very good day in the middle of the park. Playing two pacy pieces with the league's best passer should be enough to contain Sergio Camargo, Elijah Adekugbe and Buscher and create enough on your own. What's the caveat? If Cavalry plays narrow, forcing more physical confrontation in the middle of the park, things could even out pretty quickly.
Forwards were the focal point over the first four meetings between Forge and Cavalry: Nine goals were scored, with two coming from Dominique Malonga. Yes, Forge fans, the same Cavalry striker that sunk Forge's Canadian Championship run with a pair of goals in that tightly contested tie. Malonga is in top form.
Forge are without their Cavalry boogeyman, Emery Welshman, who picked up a goal and an assist versus the Cavs during his short time with the side. Strong and physically-imposing, Anthony Novak is a noble replacement, and is in form, but it's unknown how he will match up against Cavalry's aforementioned centre back core.
ADVANTAGE CAVALRY: Here comes Anthony Novak's first big league test since emerging as the starting no. 9 in Hamilton. With goals against Valour FC and Pacific FC, and an important role played against CD Olimpia in CONCACAF League, how will he match up against one of the CPL's toughest backlines?
Marty Thompson is the digital content editor for the Canadian Premier League. His piece has been published with the permission of the CPL.