It doesn’t get any more marquee than this in the Canadian Premier League. The only two teams to have won the CPL championship in its first four years meet today at 4 p.m. PT when Island-based Pacific FC takes on Forge FC at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ont.
Forge FC has won three titles and played in all four championship games, which put head coach Bobby Smyrniotis on Sportsnet’s recent list of its top-five choices to replace John Herdman as Canada head coach leading to the 2026 World Cup. Also on Sportsnet’s list was former PFC head coach Pa-Modou Kah, now assistant coach of Charlotte FC in Major League Soccer, who guided the Tridents to the 2021 CPL title.
That, and the fact the clubs are second and third this season in the table behind leading Cavalry FC of Calgary, tells you a lot about both the Forge and PFC organizations.
“They [Forge] set the standard. We have big respect for them and how they play, and for Bobby as a manager, and the players and quality that they have,” said PFC head coach James Merriman.
Merriman has been a part of the story every kick and dribble along the way and is in his second season as Tridents head coach following Kah and was assistant coach in the club’s first three seasons of existence.
“We expect a big match. Everybody understands what’s on the line — both teams,” said Merriman.
“I think it’s going to be a great game of football in this league and at this standard.”
Second-place PFC trails Cavalry FC by six points while third-place Forge FC is seven points behind the Calgarians with each team having three games remaining as Cavalry closes in on the regular-season title and 2024 CONCACAF Champions League berth that goes with it.
The CPL’s second CONCACAF Champions League spot next year will go to the post-season champion, which will be decided through the five-team Page playoff system — familiar to curling fans — which heavily rewards the first- and second-seed teams. So even if the regular-season championship is all but Cavalry’s to lose, PFC and Forge FC would greatly help themselves toward second place with favourable respective results today.
“We know how important it is to finish in the top-two,” said Merriman.
“But it’s not over in terms of trying to win the league. We’re still going to fight [for that]. We have to keep pushing.”
But a Tridents loss today in Hamilton, combined with a Cavalry FC win this afternoon over York United in the Greater Toronto Area, would guarantee the Calgary club first place and the Canadian Premier League Shield.
PFC and Cavalry FC are the only two teams to have clinched a playoff berth to date but Forge FC can with a win or draw today at home against the Tridents.
PFC have been road warriors this season, however, with 21 of their 40 points earned away from Starlight Stadium.
“We are in Victoria and our travel is the most difficult,” noted Merriman.
“In past seasons it’s not been our biggest strength. We’ve always been good at home at Starlight Stadium. We needed to improve our away performances. It’s been a big focus for us. We’ve been a bit disappointed with some of our results at home [this season]. But we’ve got to be happy with what we’ve been able to achieve on the road. That’s full credit to the players. It’s not easy traveling in this league.”
Forge FC leads the all-time series over PFC 11-4-2 but one of those four Tridents’ victories was the most important in franchise history — the 1-0 win over the Hammers at Tim Hortons Field in the 2021 CPL championship game.