With their spring championship aspirations at stake, Forge FC delivered late in Canadian Premier League action Saturday at Tim Horton’s field in Hamilton.
After Forge (5-2-1) surrendered a goal to Valour FC forward Marco Bustos in the opening minute, Jace Kotsopoulos’s 84th-minute equalizer and a 90th-minute own-goal gave them a 2-1 win.
A loss Saturday would have put league-leader Cavalry FC in a position to clinch the spring CPL title and secure a spot in the CPL championship, which would have them face the winner of the fall season.
The Hamilton-side trail league-leading Cavalry by five points with only two games remaining in their spring schedule, while Cavalry have four remaining.
Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis acknowledged the victory as one that could potentially save the first of two campaigns in the league.
“I guess when you look at it after, you say that’s [season saved] the case,” said Smyrniotis to reporters following the match. “We have a responsibility to keep pace with the top and that was the most important thing today.”
Another aspect of Saturday’s match was the winner would secure a spot in the 2019 CONCACAF League, a competition that adds another qualifying route for the CONCACAF Champions League that features the best clubs from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Following the match, Smyrniotis would reveal a spot in the CONCACAF League was his team’s main focus from the start.
“To represent our league in CONCACAF, that was the biggest target we had,” said the co-founder of Sigma FC, a soccer academy based out of Mississauga, Ont. “We were confident coming into the game but it changed on us 30 seconds in, that’s obviously something different than we’ve faced before.
“I give credit to the guys, they did what we asked and the by-product of our pressure was set pieces. You’re always going to get rewarded at some point and that happened for us.”
Both Forge goals came off corner-kicks as they continued to dominate play in the second half.
David Choiniere, who had missed a few chances throughout the match to equalize, gave way for fellow forward Kotsopoulos in the 56th minute.
A corner-kick earned by Forge proved to be the turning point in the last eight minutes and supplied a marquee moment for a league debutant.
“Valour (based in Winnipeg) was defending well, we got some set pieces — coaches trust me to go near post — that’s where they wanted me and this time I held my ground,” said Kotsopoulos following his CPL debut.
“I saw the ball come off his [Kyle Bekker’s] foot, I envisioned it and next thing I knew the ball was off my head and in the back of the net.”
It was the first professional goal for the former U Sports star from the University of Guelph and a moment that is unrivalled in his young career.
“One of the best feelings I’ve ever had playing this game,” said Kotsopoulos. “Especially for it to come on my debut at such an important time.”
With Valour (3-4-0) eliminated from the current domestic and continental championship, head coach Rob Gale is preaching patience to his side despite a missed opportunity Saturday.
“It’s a long season, but we have to find a way to win this game,” said Gale. “For 85 minutes it was a proper performance but it turned into a loss. They stuck to their tactics—we need to be braver and match the intensity.
“It’s early and we’ll let Forge and Cavalry duke it out for the spring and we’ll focus game-to-game and improve ourselves.”
— Forge FC (@ForgeFCHamilton) June 15, 2019