Because of the nature of the new league, with the majority of players signed to one-year contracts, there was a high turnover in rosters for most of the Canadian Premier League clubs. Forge FC was no exception, having released or sold nine players after their successful 2019 season. Forge, however, managed to hold onto most of the core group that brought them the trophy last year, and the new additions to the club will make them a dominant force in the league again this year. They are also one of the most “Canadian” of all the clubs, with only 4 spots on their roster going to non-Canadian players. With that in mind, it’s time for a Forge FC season preview.
Forge FC paved the way in showing that the Canadian Premier League can be a selling league. A couple of key players were sold shortly after the end of the season, providing Forge FC a well-deserved financial boost. On the other hand, the Hamilton club has not allowed their side to grow weaker during the off-season. They made a couple of key acquisitions that will certainly make Tommy Wheeldon’s Calgary side have concerns about their chances of bringing home the coveted trophy this year after having come so close the previous season.
Among the nine players who departed from Forge FC after 2019, the two most significant are Tristan Borges and Emery Welshman. Borges was the golden boy of the 2019 season, as well as being a wonderful example of what the league represents to Canadian soccer. Reportedly, Borges had been considering giving up soccer before he was picked up by Forge FC. It was not long into the season before he was demonstrating his skill on and off the ball. Borges would earn the Golden Boot with 13 goals, be part of a 6-way tie with 5 assists, and receive the “Best Under 21 Canadian Player of the Year” and “Player of the Year” awards.
After being one of the first CPL players to receive a call-up from the National Team, Borges had become a valuable player. It seemed more and more unlikely that he would remain in Hamilton given his trajectory, and the January 22 announcement that he would be sold to Belgian club Oud-Heverlee Leuven (known as OHL) did not come as a huge shock.
Emery Welshman was never a likely return for the club, since he came through an FC Cincinnati loan. At the end of the season, Welshman had proven his worth, and Cincinnati capitalized on this, selling the striker to Hapoel Haifa of the Israeli Premier League. As will be seen, Forge FC has done well in replacing Welshman in the striker role.
Bertrand Owundi was also released after the 2019 season. Owundi only missed playing in one game in the Spring Season, and two in the Fall. He has quite the pedigree, having spend time in the MLS for Minnesota, as well as the top flights in Cameroon and Algeria. Yet, the club needed to find space in their budget as they looked to fill in some other areas on the squad. Alongside Owundi, Giuliano Frano is also departing the club, reportedly to pursue “other business interests”.
The full list of players released:
- Tristan Borges-Right Winger
- Quillan Roberts-Goalkeeper
- Bertrand Owundi-Centre Back
- Luke Iacobellis-Goalkeeper
- Oluwaseun Oyegunle-Centre Back
- Justin Stoddart-Midfielder
- Jace Kotsopoulos-Centre Forward
- Emery Welshman-Centre Forward
- Giuliano Frano-Right Back
Coach Bobby Smyrniotis has two new acquisitions that will likely see play fairly early in the line-up. Maxim Tissot was signed July 22, and Molham “Mo” Babouli‘s signing was announced earlier this week. Alongside David Edgar, Tissot will provide Forge FC with a strong backline. Their combined experience will make Forge very difficult to break down. With the loss of both Frano and Owundi, Forge certainly needed to pick up some added strength. Forge defenders make up some of the oldest players on the roster. This should help them to remain calm and collected throughout the tournament.
Molham Babouli is well-known to Toronto FC fans. His quick speed and agility on the ball won him the appreciation of many viewers. He did struggle with finishing at times. Yet, he did not look completely out of place next to the incredibly gifted Sebastian Giovinco. I was hoping to see Babouli in this league last year, so I’m happy to see that he has now made the jump. He will be a difference-maker, and his energy should go a long way in helping to replace the combined attacking strength of Borges and Welshman. Expect to see him on the pitch as a substitute in the first couple of matches before starting.
Paola Sabak represents another great acquisition for the club. The Belgian attacking midfielder spent the last couple of years with Dutch side NEC Nijmegen in the Eerste Divisie (second flight). Sabak should be the extra attacking power that the club needed. Losing Borges in the middle of the pitch created a hole that needed to be filled.
Forge FC needed to bring in another keeper after releasing Quillan Roberts, who many believed would be the starting keeper last year before Triston Henry demonstrated his skill (Henry finished the season tied with Calgary’s Marco Carducci for most clean sheets at 9). The club signed David Monsalve on February 25th for this purpose, but Covid changed things quickly. Forge made the decision to transfer Monsalve to Club Xelaju MC in the Liga Nacional de Futbol de Guatemala for an undisclosed amount in a mutually agreed arrangement. Without this transfer, Monsalve would have spent the 2020 season in isolation with no playing time to show for it.
Instead of Monsalve, Forge FC had to dig a little deeper for their secondary keeper. They ended up resigning Baj Maan who had signed a CPL Development Contract in 2019. Maan, 19, is one of the many Sigma FC products on the Forge FC roster.
As a depth signing, Forge brought on defender Jordan Dunstan, 27. Dunstan has spent time with Chattanooga FC (NPSL), as well as Nashville SC (USL). He will likely see a decent amount of playing time for the club, depending on which formation Coach Smyrniotis decides on. Forge also picked up Gabriel Balbinotti. He had been their seventh overall draft pick last year from Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. 21-year-old Balbinotti, at 6’1″, should provide some physicality up front in the striker position when called upon, and will provide more much-needed depth for the tournament.
List of Players In
- Maxim Tissot-Defender
- Molham Babouli-Striker
- Paola Sabak-Attacking Midfielder
- Jordan Dunstan-Defender
Overall, the Hamilton club has a strong side with few glaring weaknesses. Forge FC’s one obvious concern is their goalkeeping depth. Triston Henry is a key player, and his injury could be disastrous for the club. Forge would be fully reliant on a recent University draft pick with no professional experience, and with no backup beyond that. Fortunately, the club has a strong defensive line that should do well in clearing dangerous balls fairly quickly.
Smyrniotis has a number of options as to formation and starting lineup. He certainly has a good amount of depth in the forward and midfield positions. I suspect the club will lean toward a fairly balanced approach with a 4-2-3-1 formation or something like it. This tactic will allow for quick transitions up and down the pitch. Forge have a very solid spine and the skill to exploit space in the middle of the pitch. This will likely mean that Forge will engage in a fairly central attack.
What do you think? Will Babouli sit on the bench for the first few games? Do you see Forge FC focusing more on the attack, or maybe opting more for a defensive formation?