By Darnel Harris
Ten thousand four hundred and eighty-six fans from across southern Ontario and Alberta gathered last Saturday afternoon to bear witness as Hamilton’s Forge FC and Calgary’s Calvary FC battled in the Canadian Premier League’s first Final. The primetime game did not disappoint; crunching tackles, twenty-one shots, a pile of yellow and red cards, a penalty kick and a goal kept fans on the edge of their seats.
The Canadian Premier League’s trophy, the North Star Shield was unveiled before the match. Weighing fifteen pounds, the hefty crystal trophy set in a wooden plinth is emblazoned with the league’s maple leaf compass logo. Each year, the winning team will receive a replica with the winning players, coaches and owners’ names engraved onto it.
In earning their way to the CPL Finals, Calvary and Forge proved themselves to be the cream of the Canadian Premier League crop since spring. Forge came second in the CPL table, and represented the League with pride as Hamilton advanced against Central American opponents in this summer’s Concacaf League. Calvary won both the CPL Fall and Spring seasons and claimed the CPL’s first victory against an MLS team by defeating the Vancouver Whitecaps over 180 minutes in the 2019 Canadian Championship.
The match kicked off with fireworks, and both keepers turned away efforts on goal in the first few minutes. A physical game quickly developed, and twenty-four minutes in, Calgary’s Oliver Minatel earned the first yellow card of many to come. Barely ten minutes later the referee handed a controversial straight red card to Calgary FC’s Joel Waterman for defending with his trailing arm.
Ignoring Calvary’s desperate protests, the CPL’s leading goal scorer Tristan Borges stepped up to the spot – only to see his blast kicked away by the CPL’s best goalkeeper, Marco Carducci. Being down to ten men early forced Calvary to scramble to prevent Forge from scoring. However, Borges would not be denied forever. Just before half time, Tristan latched onto a quick pass at the edge of the box and sliced the ball into the net to the delight of the home crowd.
Going into half time, Calvary looked rattled, denied being able to play the attacking football they are used to. In the locker room, Coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. urged his team to get comfortable suffering; abandon attacking and take advantage of the ball in the few seconds they would have it. His team took the message to heart, as Forge unsuccessfully applied waves of pressure for twenty-five minutes. In the 69th minute the game turned when the referee ejected the goal scorer Borges with another controversial straight red for a violent reaction to a tackle, which also means he will miss the rest of the Final. While both teams threw themselves forward in the dying minutes seeking a goal with ten men each, nothing came of their efforts.
As the whistle blew, twenty exhausted players trooped off the pitch before rain started to fall. Both coaches expressed confidence about next Saturday’s second leg despite the freezing weather expected, with Coach Wheeldon calling zero degrees in Calgary ‘tropical’. The question of if Tristan Borges will be allowed to play will loom over pre-game preparations, as Forge FC appealed to the Canada Soccer Disciplinary Committee to have his suspension overturned.
The battle for the North Star Shield resumes next week at ATCO Field / Spruce Meadows in Calgary. Watch the CPL’s first champion be crowned live on CBC at 3:30 p.m. ET on November 2nd.