Mark the Canadian Championship under unfinished business for CPL powerhouse Forge FC.
The Hamilton-based club, which won the Canadian Premier League title in 2019, ‘20 and ‘22, and was runner-up in 2021, lost a penalty shootout (8-7) to CF Montreal in the 2021 Canadian Championship semi-final and again to Toronto FC on spot kicks (5-4) in the 2020 final, which did not take place until last June because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a competition that we want,” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said. “The club’s been successful in our first four years, winning three North Star Shields. This is obviously a trophy that we don’t have in our cabinet.”
Forge FC plays host to FC Laval and CF Montreal entertains Vaughan SC on Tuesday as the 14-team cup competition kicks off again this year.
The four-round Canadian Championship features teams from Major League Soccer, the CPL, League1 BC, League1 Ontario and Quebec’s PLSQ (Première ligue de soccer du Québec).
New to the competition are CPL expansion side Vancouver FC, League1 B.C.’s TSS Rovers from Richmond, and Laval, which was formed in 2021 when CS Fabrose merged with CS Chomedey and Delta Laval.
Forge, which opened the CPL season Saturday with a 2-2 draw with Cavalry FC, is looking forward to another crack at the Voyageurs Cup.
“These are special nights. These are special games,” said Smyrniotis. “We don’t have any continental competition this year with the reshuffling of the [Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League and Scotiabank CONCACAF League] tournaments so this is everything outside the Canadian Premier League season.”
Montreal, which sits 27th over all in Major League Soccer at 1-6-0, is looking for something, anything, to smile about. The slumping club has been outscored 17-3 in league play this season – including 10-0 on its current three-game losing streak – while failing to score in six of seven outings.
There are four other Canadian Championship first-round matches this week.
On Wednesday, it’s HFX Wanderers FC against Atletico Ottawa and York United FC against Vancouver FC in a doubleheader at Toronto’s York Lions Stadium, and TSS Rovers FC against Valour FC at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, B.C.
On Thursday, Pacific FC plays host to Cavalry at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C.
Calgary’s Cavalry, Winnipeg’s Valour, Halifax and Vancouver are opening the tournament on the road because of stadium availability and weather conditions.
The Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC received first-round byes as the 2022 champion and runner-up. The Whitecaps won in a penalty shootout (5-3) on July 26 after the final at B.C. Place Stadium finished tied at 1-1.
The Whitecaps will face the York-Vancouver FC winner in the quarter-final. Toronto awaits either Montreal or Vaughan.
Forge opened the CPL season by rallying for a 2-2 tie against visiting Cavalry, thanks to a 76th-minute volley by substitute Noah Jensen.
Laval, which clinched the PLSQ title in October, has yet to start its season.
Forge defender Garven Metusala, selected eighth over all out of Concordia in the 2021 CPL-U Sports draft, played in the PLSQ for CS St-Hubert, CS Fabrose and AS Blainville, winning the PLSQ Cup in 2019 with CS Fabrose.
He knows how hungry underdog Laval will be.
“They have a lot of players who are talented, so they’re going to try to prove themselves and showcase their talent,” said Metusala.
“For them it’s a massive event,” added Smyrniotis. “So we’ve got to make sure that we’re sharp from the beginning because this means a lot to them as well.”
Forge kicked off the 2022 Canadian Championship with a 2-0 win over PLSQ’s CS Mont-Royal Outremont before losing 3-0 at Montreal in the quarter-final.
Expansion Vancouver FC opened its CPL account with a 1-0 loss Saturday at Pacific FC, which needed an 81st-minute goal by Manny Aparicio to decide the match. The two B.C. clubs are under the same ownership group.
The Canadian Championship winner gets to hoist the Voyageurs Cup as well as qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League, the elite club competition in the region.
Toronto has won the Canadian Championship eight times, compared with five for Montreal and twice for the Whitecaps.