The Canadian Premier League’s Island Games began with a rematch of the 2019 final between Forge FC and Cavalry FC.
Thirty-seven days later, the tournament concludes with the final featuring the 2019 champions in Forge facing last year’s basement dwellers, HFX Wanderers.
But make no mistake, HFX deserve its place in Saturday’s final against the reigning champions. Given the contrasting styles of both sides, this promises to be a hotly contested game to cap off the 2020 season.
Here is a key to victory for each team and one player to watch for their respective sides.
Key to victory: Set pieces
With the majority of No. 9s struggling for goals at the tournament – apart from HFX’s Akeem Garcia – it’s imperative for Forge to extract as much as possible from everyone else involved in the attack.
Forge leads the tournament in expected goals (xG) from set pieces at 7.51. That’s approximately 0.76 xG per 90 minutes, plus only Pacific FC and Valour FC scored as many headed goals as the Hamiltonians (3) at the Island Games.
This will be especially crucial given HFX Wanderers’ stingy defence. Only Valour (8.56) conceded a lower total xG at the tournament than HFX (8.95), who has played three more games.
Allowing 0.83 xG per 90 minutes, which includes conceded penalties, is as sturdy as it gets. That’s why Forge will have to use its aerial prowess to its advantage because chances in open play might be few and far between.
Key to victory: The high press
One reason why HFX has gone from the CPL’s basement in 2019 to potential champion in 2020 is the high press.
Armed with significantly more depth in midfield and up front, HFX’s press has wreaked havoc on the league.
The press has drawn penalties.
It has forced turnovers, which have led to goals.
HFX 1-0 FOR | 4'
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 9, 2020
That’s largely contributed to Garcia’s likely Golden Boot-winning campaign. The Trinidadian forward has six goals, the majority of which have been created thanks to that high press. Having a clinical striker is vital for HFX in this regard, otherwise a lot of those chances go to waste.
Every team in the league has been under duress against that pressure, and if Forge isn’t careful, they might be victimized in the final.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Joao Morelli, HFX Wanderers
From captain Andre Rampersad to midfield engine Aboubacar Sissoko, HFX has several threats in the middle of the pitch, yet none might be as crucial as Morelli.
The Brazilian has four goals and an assist in eight appearances in his first CPL campaign. But apart from his attacking contributions, Morelli’s adept at pressing opposing defenders and at recovering possession.
Morelli is secure on the ball, scores and draws fouls. He’s the type of player that drives defenders crazy. HFX will be hoping he can continue that trend against Forge’s defence.
Kyle Bekker, Forge FC
It’s difficult to argue against Bekker being the most important Forge player at the tournament.
Bekker has three goals and an assist in 10 appearances from midfield, proving that he’s been an all-around participant in multiple facets.
There’s a reason why Forge has favoured attacking down the left flank. Kwame Awuah has been a threat at left-back, but with Bekker drifting towards that side, it might force HFX to provide extra cover on the wing.
That, in turn, could open up space elsewhere and with Bekker’s ability to hit quick, long switches across the pitch, that’ll be something to monitor on Saturday.