MONTREAL — Familiar foes are set to clash in the Canadian Championship semifinal.
Major League Soccer’s CF Montreal and the Canadian Premier League’s Forge FC will face off in the final four of the national soccer tournament for the third straight time when the teams meet Wednesday evening at Stade Saputo.
Montreal won the two previous showdowns and appears to have a leg up in addition to home field advantage. But Forge has begun its CPL campaign undefeated and currently sits top of the table.
“It’s no coincidence that Forge are champions and the top team in their league,” said Montreal head coach Hernan Losada “For us, this is much more important than any MLS match. They said that it’s their most important game of the year and that is the case for us too."
Montreal are once again turning to the Canadian Championship in hopes of ending a losing streak. After the worst start to a season in club history, Montreal was able to find a reversal of fortune with a first-round victory of the Vaughan Azzurri. That kicked off the club's longest-ever win streak that included a quarterfinal win against rival Toronto FC.
Now, having lost back-to-back games on the road, Montreal has the opportunity to advance to its second Canadian Championship final in the last three tournaments and find its winning touch again.
“It’s a great game to give us a spark, but at the end of the day it’s the next step in winning this tournament,” said defender Aaron Herrera. “Every year it’s all about winning trophies and we’re two games away from winning one so we’re not taking this game lightly.”
Forge’s CPL title defence could not have had a better start. The club has yet to lose a game this season, winning five and drawing three in all competitions. The Hamilton-based team booked its ticket to the semifinal after a crucial 4-3 win on penalties in the last round of the Canadian Championship during a rematch of the CPL playoff final against Atletico Ottawa.
Within the Forge locker room is a lot of experience and, more importantly, championship pedigree. While playing for Toronto, Ashtone Morgan won the competition five times and was part of the three consecutive titles from 2016-2018.
“It’s the togetherness and the will to play and we’re super excited for this opportunity and we want to put our best foot forward for this match,” said Morgan who added that he believes Forge have the roster to compete with an MLS team.
The game will also serve as the second instalment of what has been referred to as the “Choinière Bowl” as brothers Mathieu and David face off in their hometown of Montreal in front of their family. Having both come up through the CF Montreal academy, Mathieu is having his breakout season with Montreal while David has quickly become of one of the most clinical wingers in the league at Forge.
“We’ve been talking a lot since we knew that we were going to play each other,” said Mathieu. “The whole family going to be there and is very exciting. It’s a really special moment and we’ve been talking about things like this since we were kids.”
On the other side of the country, MLS will again go head-to-head with CPL in the second semifinal. The defending-champion Vancouver Whitecaps will travel across the Strait of Georgia to Victoria and take on Pacific FC in the Ferryside Derby.
Despite claiming the Voyageurs Cup last year, Vancouver narrowly missed out on a playoff spot, prompting the club to add depth on the defensive end. The club has gone from the fourth-worst defence in MLS last year to one of the best, helping them reach the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Pacific have also seen noticeable improvement on last season. After bringing in several new additions up front, the forward line has been in great form, scoring 14 goals in eight games in all competitions and boasting CPL’s deadliest attack.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2023.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press