Hamilton Forge FC claim first Canadian Premier League championship

CALGARY — Hamilton Forge FC shut down the highest-scoring team in the Canadian Premier League to claim the inaugural championship.

Forge became the first CPL club to hoist the North Star Shield with a 1-0 victory Saturday over host Cavalry FC in Calgary.

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Needing a goal to tie the series on aggregate and get to penalty kicks, Cavalry was pressing in extra time when the ball bounced to Elimane Cisse behind Calgary's defence.

He and David Choiniere raced the ball downfield undefended for Choiniere to finish in the 94th minute.

CPL top goal scorer Tristan Borges scored in a 1-0 win in Hamilton in the opening leg.

Cavalry generated 20 of its league-leading 35 goals this season at Spruce Meadows' ATCO Field, but Forge's defence and goalkeeper Triston Henry produced a second straight clean sheet to take the series.

"This team really gathered together and you could see everybody played their part and we deserve to be champions," a hoarse Borges said.

The 21-year-old from Toronto scored 13 goals to earn the league's Golden Boot.

"For the rest of my career, I'll definitely think about this year," Borges said.

Cavalry topped the CPL table in both the spring and fall campaigns for an overall record of 19-4-5. Forge's record was 17-6-5.

The majority of Cavalry players removed their runner-up medals from their necks after receiving them.

"It's a hard one to swallow, especially here in front of our home fans," said Cavalry captain Nik Ledgerwood of Lethbridge, Alta.

"We didn't score. We had 90 minutes to put the ball in the back of the net for whatever reason."

Cavalry had chances with top scorer Dominique Malonga missing headers in the first and second halves. Julian Buscher's free kick in the second half curled just wide of the mark.

Sergio Camargo got enough of his right leg on a spinning ball in the 82nd minute to create a chance, but Henry made the diving save on the goal-line.

Including a 1-0 win over Cavalry at Tim Hortons Field to conclude their regular season Oct. 16, Hamilton shut down Calgary's attack three straight matches.

"Defensively we made it tough for them," Forge captain Kyle Bekker said. "We got very compact and really didn't give them the space they've exploited throughout the season."

Cavalry was shorthanded Saturday. Defender Joel Waterman and Borges were both shown red cards in Hamilton.

Canada Soccer's disciplinary committee subsequently rescinded Borges' suspension, but not Waterman's given in the 37th minute for a handball in Calgary's box.

"Us, seeing them lift the trophy in our home, it hurts," Calgary head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said. "It'll inspire us for next year too.

"We didn't get the bounces on this day, but we got a lot of them throughout the course of the season and I couldn't be prouder of this group."

A temperature of seven degrees and negligible wind made conditions comfortable for both players and the 5,831 spectators led by Cavalry's Foot Soldier fan club.

As CPL champions, Forge FC gets an automatic entry into the 2020 CONCACAF League. The club reached the quarterfinals before they were ousted by Olimpia of Honduras in 2019.

Bekker, a 29-year-old from Oakville, Ont., marvelled at the arc both his team and the CPL travelled in its first season.

"When you come back and join something like this which is by all means a project . . . you never know how it's going to go, but from top to bottom, this entire organization, throughout the league, everyone's kind of bought in and rolled up their sleeves and said 'we're going to truly make something great,'" Bekker said.

"Just being a part of something that's so much bigger than myself, to be sitting here at the end of what's been a long season, it's fantastic.

"There's no better feeling than this. You can't take this away from any of the boys."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2019.

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