There will be plenty of local flavour when Hamilton’s Forge FC and Calgary’s Cavalry FC will make soccer history by playing in the first-ever Canadian Premier League (CPL) Championship.
The first leg will be played Oct. 26 at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton, Ont. before the club’s play in the return leg at ATCO Field on the grounds of Spruce Meadows in Foothills County, Alta.
Forge FC’s roster is made up of mostly local talent (by design–more on that later) from the Greater Toronto Area, Peel Region, and Halton Region.
The Hamilton-based club is led by Bobby Smyrniotis, who was named Forge FC’s first-ever Technical Director and Head Coach on Oct. 1, 2018.
Smyrniotis is best known for building Mississauga-based powerhouse youth soccer academy Sigma FC into one of the sport’s preeminent development programs in North America.
As Sigma FC’s Co-Founder, Technical Director and First Team Head Coach from 2005 to 2018, the native of Scarborough, Ontario, has led the program in producing more than 20 youth national team players, seven senior ‘A’ national team players as well as 16 players that have gone on to play professionally in North America and internationally.
Additionally, there has been at least one Sigma graduate in each of the 37 Canadian Men’s National Team camps since January 2013 and more than 140 Sigma graduates have gone on to play NCAA and U Sports soccer on scholarship.
Coach Bobby Smyrniotis recaps tonight's win over Cavalry and looks ahead to the First Leg of the Finals.
— Forge FC (@ForgeFCHamilton) October 17, 2019
“Bobby and his team at Sigma have created one of the best soccer development institutions in North America.” said Forge FC Co-Founder Bob Young. “They have done it by developing talented Canadians from southern Ontario into outstanding national caliber soccer players, many of whom are now professionals playing here and in Europe. We have great aspirations for Forge FC. The success of Bobby’s work with Sigma is a perfect fit for the vision of the Canadian Premier League, and specifically with our goals for Forge FC.”
“It’s an honour and privilege to become the first Technical Director and Head Coach in Forge FC history,” Smyrniotis said. “I believe the Canadian Premier League is creating something special for soccer in this country and I’m excited to be a part of it from the inception.”
As Head Coach of the Sigma FC First Team in League1 Ontario, the 39-year-old Smyrniotis led the academy’s top team as one the winningest clubs since the league’s inception five years ago, including a 28-2-8 record over the last two regular seasons.
Oakville’s Kyle Bekker is the captain of Forge FC. Wearing the prestigious No. 10, the 28-year-old Bekker was drafted by Toronto FC of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2013 and appeared in 58 career matches in MLS.
Bekker played 2,264 total minutes in the CPL regular season. He also opened the scoring in Forge’s 2-1 loss to Cavalry in the 2nd-leg of the Canadian Championship.
Bekker developed through Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis’ Sigma FC (Mississauga) youth program and was a member from 2007-13 while also spending four years at Boston College from 2009-12.
The midfielder also has 18 caps, including 10 starts, with the Canadian Men’s National Team, recording two assists.
Giuliano Frano scored 4 regular-season goals and added 5 assists for Forge FC. The super-sub also scored against Calvary in a first-leg draw in the Canadian Championship tournament.
Frano is a two-time League1 Ontario Best XI and All-Star with Sigma FC over the last two seasons (2017-18). The native of Mississauga split the previous two seasons with the United Soccer League’s Seattle Sounders FC 2 (2015) and Whitecaps FC 2 (2016), making 47 total appearances and scoring three goals.
GOAL! That's a third!
Giulano Frano bangs in another for @ForgeFCHamilton off the corner
3 – 0 for the home side
We're losin it out here on https://t.co/hishXepRT3
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 9, 2019
At the international level, the 5-11, 163-pound midfielder earned two appearances for Canada’s U-23 men’s national team at the 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship.
Klaidi Cela transferred to Sigma FC of League1 Ontario in 2018 after spending the previous two seasons (2016-18) with Grupo Desportivo da Gafanha in the Campeonato de Portugal. The 6-3 defender from Mississauga participated in Canada’s U-15 (2013-14) and U-18 (2015-16) national team development camps.
Cela has a goal and an assist from the backline in 8 appearances for Forge in the regular season.
Forward Marcel Zajac put in more than 1,000 minutes in the CPL debut season. He also made 54 appearances with 35 starts over three years at Akron (2016-18).
The native of Mississauga represented Canada at the Youth National Team level, including matches with the U-17 squad. He also played his youth football at Sigma FC under Smyrniotis.
Very few players excited the fans as much as Kadell Thomas in the debut of the Canadian Premier League. Highlight-reel goals from the Brampton forward helped put the CPL on the map with coverage on ESPN and other major sports media outlets.
Need a reason to smile on a Monday morning?
— CanPL (@CPLsoccer) July 22, 2019
Thomas is a two time League1 Ontario First team selection and perennial league all-star. He made a total of 47 appearances with Sigma FC over the last three seasons (2016-18) under Smyrniotis.
Forge FC announced on Sept. 15 that it signed 6-2 defender Oluwaseun Oyegunle to a developmental contract. The 17-year-old has gotten calls from the Canadian U-17 national team after making 12 appearances for Sigma FC in 2019.
What is the Canadian Premier League?
If you’re unfamiliar with the league, you have a pretty good excuse: the CPL is set to complete its inaugural season.
The league is the brainchild of Bob Young, owner of the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who planted the seeds for the country’s first top-tier pro soccer league.
It was first reported in 2013 that Young, along with a core group of investors working with the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), had plans for a FIFA-sanctioned six-team league.
Things were mostly quiet for a few years, until May 6, 2017, when the creation of the CPL was unanimously approved and sanctioned by the CSA. At the same time, ownership groups in Winnipeg and Hamilton were also approved. The CPL completed its first year with 7 teams: Cavalry FC, Edmonton FC, Forge FC, HFX Wanderers (Halifax), Pacific FC (Langford, BC), Valour FC (Winnipeg), and York9 FC.
The inaugural Canadian Premier League season ran from April to October with each team scheduled to play 28 games, split into two seasons. The Apertura and Clausura (Spanish for “opening” and “closing”) system is used in several other soccer leagues around the world.
The respective winners of the spring and fall season–in this case, Forge FC and Cavalry FC–then play in a 2-game home and away series for the CPL Championship.
Canadian Premier League teams also compete in the Canadian Championship tournament against Canadian teams in Major League Soccer, the USL Championship, and Tier 3 league champions for Canada’s spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Made in Canada
The Canadian Premier League has several rules to give national players more opportunities. This includes a minimum of six Canadian starters per game, a requirement that 50 per cent +1 of players on team rosters must be Canadian, and a limit of seven foreign nationals per team.
Additionally, three of the domestic players must be under the age of 21 and play at least 1,000 combined minutes per season.
The CPL and U Sports hold a yearly draft for Canadian university players. Selected student-athletes will be able to play for CPL teams in the spring and summer, and return to their university team to preserve their eligibility.