Forge FC, York9 FC tie in Canadian Premier League's entertaining opener
Kadell Thomas draws equalizer in 78th minute of inaugural match
York 9 FC's Ryan Telfer, on loan from Toronto FC, goes into the history book as the first to score in the Canadian Premier League.
But Forge FC substitute Kadell Thomas had the last laugh Saturday, delivering the tying goal to make the most of the platform afforded by the new Canadian pro soccer league.
"He's one of those players that we don't know about without the Canadian Premier League," said Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis.
"I think there'll be many Kadell Thomases on Forge FC and more importantly all across the league," he added.
WATCH | Thomas brings Forge FC level with York9 FC:
Thomas, a 22-year-old from Brampton, Ont., who played under Smyrniotis at Sigma FC, came on in the 56th minute and scored the tying goal in the 78th minute as Forge FC and York finished deadlocked at 1-1 before an announced crowd of 17,611 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.
"It's an amazing feeling," said Thomas, who came to the CPL from U.S. junior college and League 1 Ontario where he starred for Sigma.
'It's been a journey'
So amazing that Thomas forgot the goal celebration he had planned.
Emery Welshman — another Sigma product — played provider, sending a cross from the byline into the penalty box to Thomas, who controlled the ball and then curled a right-footed shot high into the goal.
In addition to three years in League 1, Thomas played junior college soccer for Broward College in Florida and Cloud County Community College in Kansas.
"It's been a journey," he said.
"Even two, three years ago, I couldn't imagine something like this — being in Canada," he added.
Telfer wasted little time making history with the first CPL goal. He beat Forge FC goalkeeper Triston Henry in the third minute with a right-footed shot from the edge of the penalty box after captain Manny Aparicio's perfect through ball stranded three defenders.
WATCH | Telfer scores 1st goal in CPL history:
Forge FC came on strong and had multiple chances to tie the game but was unable to convert until Thomas's late strike. York 9 was in defensive mode as the match wore on and did not manage a shot in the second half.
"Overall I think it's what everyone hoped it would be," said Smyrniotis. "It's a great festival for the game. It's a great starting point for what we're going to build for the future."
Windy, crisp afternoon
Forge FC outshot York 20-6 (6-1 in shots on target) and had 61.9 per cent of possession.
"Look, we wanted to spoil the occasion for them today," said York coach Jim Brennan. "We wanted to come away with a point or three points. So we're happy. We've done our job today."
While the sides had only been together for some seven weeks, the opener delivered on entertainment. Both teams looked to play attractive possession-based soccer as best they could on a windy, crisp afternoon.
Tickets were essentially free thanks to Forge owner Bob Young, who also owns the CFL Tiger-Cats. Spectators were asked to make a donation to youth soccer while season-ticket holders were offered free passes to another game.
Tim Hortons Field was decorated with Forge FC's orange trim. "Together We Forge" read the banner at centre field. Outside buses unloaded green-clad York 9 supporters from Toronto.
"It's an exciting day for soccer fans: The Canadian Premier League kicks off today." tweeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
For Brennan, the anthem signalled a special day.
"Once we started singing that national anthem, we knew this is not an American league. This is a Canadian league ... and once that Canadian anthem was done, it was done. Because this is a Canadian league," said Brennan, who won 49 caps for Canada.
"So we all looked at each other and said 'You know what? This is it guys. This is our pro league, guys. We're finally making a statement here."'
9 Canadian starters on each side
Under league rules, teams must have a minimum of six domestic players and maximum of five foreign players in their starting lineups.
Forge FC featured nine Canadians in its starting lineup along with Senegal's Eiimane Oumar Cisse and Sweden's Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson.
Toronto-based York 9 featured nine Canadian starters — Justin Springer has both Canadian and St. Kitts & Nevis citizenship, plus Japan's Wataru Murofushi and Sweden's Simon Adjei.
WATCH | The full inaugural CPL match:
Aparicio had a fine performance for York 9 FC, but his day ended a little early after being sent off for a second yellow card in stoppage time.
The seven CPL teams will each play 28 regular-season games, 14 home and 14 away, in a season split in two, with spring and fall champions meeting to decide the year's overall winner.
Pacific FC hosts HFX Wanderers FC on Sunday in Langford, B.C.
Forge FC: Triston Henry, Jonathan Grant, Eiimane Oumar Cisse, Dominic Samuel, Kwame Awuah, Giuliano Frano, Kyle Bekker (captain), Chris Nanco, Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson, Emery Welshman, Tristan Borges
York9 FC: Nathan Ingham, Justin Springer, Luca Gasparotto, Daniel Gogarty, Kyle Porter, Ryan Telfer, Joe Di Chiara, Manny Appalachia (captain), Wataru Murofushi, Cyrus Rollocks, Simon Adjei