The two heavyweights of the 2023 CPL season go head to head in the first semi-final of the 2023 playoffs. Given the format of this season's playoffs it’s not a do or die situation today as the winner progresses straight to the grand final and has the advantage of hosting in their own stadium whilst the loser falls down to play Pacific FC, the winner of the previous elimination game vs Halifax Wanderers.
It’s hard to not look at home side Cavalry as the strong favorite for this one as the regular season champions finished 13 points clear of second place Forge FC with 5 more wins overall than their Ontarian opponents. Forge, however, are no strangers to the CPL final as the league’s most successful club with 3 titles under their belt since the league began in 2019.
With the game commencing the first chance goes to Cavalry in the third minute with a cross from the right hand side finding the head of Sergio Camargo who just nods it wide. Early impetus came from the home side in red as the winger and Somalian international Ali Musse danced his way inside, ignoring legitimate calls to pass from his teammates and delivering a half decent chance just wide of the left post. The resulting goal kick after some head tennis quickly finds the ball back at Ali’s feet darting in on the right and is unable to find either side of the goalkeeper.
Forge begins to grow into the occasion and starts to find pockets of joy in the opposition half. A fluffed header from Terran Campbell failed to net his 11th goal of the season and a decent 25 yard strike from Noah Jensen smothered by the goalkeeper was all they had to show for the first third of the match. It would still be Forge, however, that break the deadlock in the 30th minute from an inswinging corner delivered by Kyle Bekker and deflecting off of Cavalry defender Jesse Daley off a punch from goalkeeper Marco Carducci. Uncharacteristic defending from the team with the best defensive record in the league.
Forge finishes the first half strong and comes out in the second looking hungry for more. Kyle Bekker particularly looking to take this game by the scruff of the neck and in the 50th minute the Forge captain side foots a lovely finish to the goalkeepers left. Bekker continuing his great form at ATCO Field, scoring more goals here than anywhere else away from home.
With the insurance goal secured, Forge sits off and allows Cavalry to make advances. Ali Musse looking to spur the revival and sees his free-kick smash against the side netting, prompting half of the crowd to unknowingly celebrate. The charge continued and in the 70th minute a half-volley outside of the box from Sergio Camargo smashed against the crossbar and results in nothing but a bit more hope for the home side.
Missed opportunities allow Forge to move back onto the front foot and Kyle Bekker almost has the opportunity to bag his brace but elects to fire his shot from ten yards right at the goalkeeper’s chest. Shortly after, former Standard Liege player Beni Badibanga tries to capitalize on the Cavalry lack of energy down the left side bursting from his own half into the box and being tumbled over by the defending Eryk Kobza for what looked surely to be a penalty. Rightful appeals from the fallen Badibanga were waved away by the referee much to the Belgians bewilderment.
Ten minutes to go and Cavalry find their way back in with a corner from Musse headed near post and in from Irishman Joe Mason for his first goal of the season. Forge almost quells the crowd immediately through Bekker once again just centimeters away from the incoming cross from about 5 yards out.
Despite some late half-efforts, Cavalry just couldn’t find their way through and Forge heads once again to a CPL final with the benefit of home advantage at Tim Hortons field in the showpiece final on October 28th. Cavalry will have the home advantage too in their resurrection match against plucky Pacific on October 21st.