Dynasty Win: Forge FC Claims Third North Star Shield
Forge FC has secured a dynasty win to hoist the North Star Shield for a third time after reaching four straight finals, stunning a stellar Atletico Ottawa home crowd of nearly 15,000 at TD Place.
Another championship-winning header from Alessandro Hojabrpour – this time for Forge, rather than against them – combined with a Choiniere strike to secure a dynasty win for the dominant hammers.
Host side Atletico Ottawa came into the match with a clean bill of health and defender Diego Espejo back into the fold, with head coach Carlos Gonzalez fresh off of a Coach of the Year award after guiding his team from worst-to-first in a banner year.
The hammers had entered the match without team captain Kyle Bekker, who had picked up a red card in the semi-final. Noah Jensen slotted in well to replace him, with the visitors deploying a tried-and-true 4-3-3 attacking shape.
The match opened just as most has predicted: Forge FC were first to probe, with Atletico Ottawa absorbing the pressure as former Barcelona man Ballou Tabla and his fast feet highlighted their counter-attacking prowess.
Forge’s Rezart Rama earned the first caution of the game after a heavy touch from the right-back saw him slide into a dangerous tackle in Ottawa’s box, meaning he’d have to play most of the match one card away from marching orders.
The hammers continued to apply most of the pressure as the first half went on, with their high press allowing the side to repeatedly probe with purposeful possession.
In the 28th minute, that strategy paid off.
The go-ahead goal came from the man who scored the match-winner last year: a forceful header from Alessandro Hojabrpour blasted into the net following an inch-perfect freekick from Borges, giving the visitors a big first half-lead.
Forge attacker David Choiniere – who had won the set piece opportunity after a smart dash towards the box – would soon collect the game’s second caution after clipping Tabla on a counter minutes later, with Atletico Ottawa adapting to a ‘Plan B’ approach after going a goal down.
Unable to sit and absorb the attack after suffering the first goal, the hosts pushed up from their trademark low block. An uptick in tempo saw Atletico Ottawa gain the upper hand as the first half came to an end, forcing the ball into the Forge box on a handful of occasions but falling short of connecting the final pass to an equalizer.
The second half exploded at full-tilt, with Forge going shock-and-awe on the Atletico Ottawa defense to force Nathan Ingham into an incredulous double-save and keep Ottawa from suffering a second goal early on.
It wasn’t long before Ottawa reached into the bench to make an attacking change, with Keven Aleman coming on to replace young Zakaria Bahous in the hopes of spicing up their movement in the final third.
Forge certainly didn’t set back in the meanwhile, pushing forth and forcing Ottawa to keep defenders far too deep for what the club would’ve liked, or what it needed.
The hosts nearly broke through fifteen minutes from time after Sergio Camus played a great one-two with Sissoko, forcing Triston Henry into a big stop and getting the crowd on its feet.
Frustrations were felt as the league’s player of the year, Ollie Bassett, collected yellow after sliding in late to stop Hojabrpour from pouncing on a counter.
The fates wouldn’t shine on the hosts, however, with David Choiniere – who had scored in the semi-finals – danced around Sergio Camus to run in close on Nathan Ingham and fire home the insurance goal:
The crowd deflated after what was a much-apparent match-winner, with Atletico Ottawa unable to find any success in the opposition’s end of the pitch. While the late game tactical substitutions flowed in, the tide would go Forge’s way straight through to the final whistle from Filip Dujic.
With Forge securing the club’s third North Star Shield win out of four straight finals, Bobby Smyrniotis and his Hamilton-based team have cemented themselves as a dynasty club in the early chapters of Canadian Premier League history.
While Atletico Ottawa couldn’t make it happen in front of a banner crowd in the nation’s capital tonight, the squad chosen by Carlos Gonzalez left it all on the pitch and can head into the offseason knowing their worst-to-first story bodes well for the club’s future.
For now, the status quo remains the same: Forge has been a clearly dominant force in the league, and the next question will be whether head coach Bobby Smyrniotis and key members of the squad will move on to a higher level. For now, however, it’ll be celebrations for the coach and his CPL side.
Header Image Credit: Audrey Magny