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Pacific FC ready to take on defending champion Forge in CPL final today

It’s the Canadian Premier League soccer version of Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed — the brash upstart against the defending champion.
Pacific FC's Jordan Haynes, right, challenges Mo Farsi of Cavalry FC in last month's semifinal. TRISHA LEES, PACIFIC FC

It’s the Canadian Premier League soccer version of Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed — the brash upstart against the defending champion.

Island-based Pacific FC, in its first final, meets two-time defending champion Forge FC in the CPL championship game today at 1:30 p.m. PT at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton (online on OneSoccer).

The original Rocky ended with holder Creed winning, but PFC is looking to flip the script. They aren’t in this for moral victories. But the cagey holders Forge will have something to say about PFC’s dreams of inheriting the mantle.

“We just want to keep on rolling with what we do well and want the third North Shield in our room [today],” said Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis.

“There is going to be a great energy and environment in our stadium. There is extra motivation in having this in Hamilton,” said Smyrniotis, noting the 2019 league championship was won in Calgary against Cavalry FC and the 2020 title in the pandemic bubble in Charlottetown.

PFC head coach Pa-Modou Kah, announced Saturday as finalist with Smyrniotis for CPL coach of the year, was asked by the media about the Hammers vying to be crowned at home and the Tridents’ role as potential spoilers.

“So, you guys are already having a party?” Kah said with a chuckle.

“We’re not here to spoil. We’re here to do something we believe we can do. That is not spoiling.”

Canada-capped PFC captain Jamar Dixon concurred. “It’s been a very exciting year and it’s not a fluke we’re in this position. Forge has done it twice and know what it is about. But we control what we can control and will grind and stay focused.”

Forge FC captain and former MLS player Kyle Bekker, capped 18 times for Canada and a finalist for CPL player of the year with Terran Campbell of PFC, said the past is the past. “We don’t think about the last two. It’s all about this one. It’s not about where we’ve been. It’s about where we are going.”

The Hammers have never lost to the Tridents and are 8-0-1 all-time against PFC.

“The record of the past means absolutely nothing,” said Smyrniotis. “This is one game to lift the trophy and one team will be happy.”

The other not so much.

Asked about PFC being winless all-time against the Hammers, Kah replied: “I’m not a fan of stats. History is meant to be rewritten.”

Forge FC’s success has given it a far denser schedule than other CPL franchises. As defending CPL champions, the Hammers are also in the CONCACAF League and played in the second game of the two-game semifinal of that competition against Club de Fútbol Motagua on Wednesday in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Since the four semifinalists and top two losing quarter-finalists in the CONCACAF League are guaranteed passage to the CONCACAF Champions League for 2022, Forge FC has become the first CPL club to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League.

It is the top club competition in the region and is CONCACAF’s equivalent of the UEFA Champions League.

That is the pathway that awaits PFC next year if they win today.

“Playing in CONCACAF would mean a lot,” said Kah. “You have to be ambitious or why do you play the games?”

The Hammers know all about it.

“It was a very emotional game in Tegucigalpa on Wednesday in front of 17,000 fans and then the 12-hour trip back home,” said Smyrniotis. “So, PFC have had 14 days to analyze us [since beating second-seed Cavalry FC 2-1 in their CPL semifinal in Calgary] and we have had two days to analyze them since getting back from Honduras. But we just flip the switch and we go.”

It’s what champions do.

PFC will hope to do what heirs apparent do and rise to take the throne.

“You can’t ask for a better tagline — David versus Goliath and young versus seasoned — with two fan bases who are passionate and who love their teams,” said CPL commissioner David Clanachan.