It was the unlikeliest of days to get the unlikeliest of results.
On Tuesday, in what is to be one of the oddest midweek game schedules of the year, Vancouver FC secured their first home win of the season over three-time Canadian Premier League champions Forge FC. The Eagles managed to put an end to their eight-game winless streak against Forge, and in turn, extend Forge’s winless streak to five games. But what a time to turn up for Vancouver.
Callum Irving, Take A Bow
Vancouver club captain Callum Irving has had a rough few weeks prior to the match against Ottawa last week, as he was not perhaps performing to the all-star quality that he has shown in the past. Against Ottawa, he was the difference between a 1-0 loss and another blowout defeat at the hands of Atletico.
This week, however, he took it one step further. He helped his team stabilize in what was another frantic opening 20 minutes, pulling out some heroic saves, including a free-kick that he tipped onto the crossbar. His presence and stability between the sticks allowed Vancouver to settle down in the game, and respond to Forge’s early pressures. Even after they settled down, Irving was still leading the team on from the back, and putting his arms around players in the breaks between plays, helping them see out the match.
In a team that is desperate for experience and leadership, it is vital for a player and captain to step up to the plate and take command of his side, and Irving did not hesitate to do that in this match.
The Young and Inexperienced Make The Difference
Many fans might have raised some eyebrows when the starting line-up was released, with staples in the side like Gael Sandoval and Shaan Hundal taken out of the starting XI and Mael Henry and Ameer Kinani coming in.
In addition, other fresh faces like Anthony White and James Cameron, that have only featured recently, lined up to start. Add in the youthful TJ Tahid and Tyler Crawford, and the average age of the starters was 21.9. It was poised to be another harsh lesson for the developing youth, but it was also an opportunity to step up and announce yourself, and boy did they.
After a frantic opening 20 minutes, the team settled down and dealt with much of what Forge was throwing at them. Cameron and Crawford, in positions that have been constantly exploited by the opposing side throughout the season, stood firm against players like Terran Campbell, David Choiniere, Kwasi Poku, and Kyle Bekker. They limited their effectiveness on the wing and forced them to go back inside or put more hopeful crosses into the box.
Ibrahim Bakare, once more in the heart of midfield, proved to be a physical asset for the team in the middle as his presence allowed Vancouver to break down oncoming attacks more efficiently than before.
Last but not least, the two goal scorers, Tahid and Kinani, while fortunate that they benefitted from some dire Forge defending, nevertheless put in fantastic shifts throughout the match, creating chances and carving space up, earning a well-deserved ovation upon their substitution.
Afshin Ghotbi proved that his side, if they are sharp and focused throughout the 90 minutes, can hold their own and bring home a victory, regardless of who they face.
What’s Going On At Forge?
While the celebrations were at full force come the full-time whistle for Vancouver, the Forge players solemnly made their way back to their dressing room, faces etched with frustration and disappointment.
Even after the match, Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis cut a frustrated figure in the post-match press conference, lamenting his team’s poor luck in front of goal and taking shots at the tactics employed by some teams in the league.
“Maybe we’ll have to put 10 or 11 players behind the ball like some other teams are doing this season, to change things up,” Smyrniotis mused to media after the match.
If it was not clear before, it is official now: Forge are in a slump. They are winless in five games, and are now five points adrift from Pacific in first. That gap could rise to a possible 11 points if Pacific win their two games in hand. And the most incredulous part of it is that Forge aren’t even necessarily playing that badly.
They are still dominating possession in games, creating chances, overloading the half-spaces, all the things we expect Forge to do. The difference is that they can’t buy enough goals to win matches right now, and that is taking a toll on their performances. Players are making uncharacteristic mistakes, experienced heads are having lapses of judgements, and cracks are starting to form.
Whether it’s a temporary setback that will be fixed once the goals start going in, or whether it spells out a grander issue that is taking place in the great dynasty of Forge, what is certain is that no one knows when or how Forge will get out of this funk, and if they’ll go back to their Forging ways before its too late.
You can check out all of Tom’s (@residualimage) photos from the match on our Flickr account HERE and in the slideshow below