July 23rd, 2024

Herdman sees Forge as a stiff test, hopes for reinforcements for cup return leg

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on July 9, 2024.

Coach John Herdman doesn't mind the six-week interval between the two legs of Toronto FC's Canadian Championship semifinal against Canadian Premier League champion Forge FC. Herdman watches the team play against Charlotte FC during the second half of an MLS soccer match in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, April 13, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Nell Redmond

Coach John Herdman welcomes the six-week interval between the two legs of Toronto FC’s Canadian Championship semifinal against Canadian Premier League champion Forge FC.

Herdman, whose team faces Forge on Wednesday at Tim Hortons Field, expects to have reinforcements for the Aug. 21 return leg at BMO Field.

“For us it’s amazing,” a smiling Herdman said of the time between the two games. “Copa America will be over. We’ll expect some summer signings in, some turnover in the squad over the summer. It’ll be a fresh group.”

Toronto will get captain/midfielder Jonathan Osorio and fullback/wingback Richie Laryea back from international duty next week. The secondary transfer window opens July 18 with Herdman eager to add talent to a thin squad.

The Toronto coach also hopes to get injured wingback Tyrese Spicer and midfielders Alonso Coello and Brandon Servania back for the return leg.

“It could look very different (for the return leg) at home,” Herdman said of his lineup. “But at this stage, we’re sort of managing a squad that’s very thin across a lot of games.

“We know that the playing field has been massively levelled coming into this match.”

There are also injury question-marks Wednesday over TFC defender Nicksoen Gomis (shin contusion) and winger Derrick Etienne Jr. (hand).

Forge is missing injured forward Terran Campbell while Mexican fullback Daniel Parra is suspended for yellow card accumulation.

Pacific FC hosts the defending champion Vancouver Whitecaps in the other cup semifinal Wednesday.

Both Toronto and Forge have been struggling of late.

Toronto (7-13-3) is mired in a nine-game league winless run (0-7-2) and has lost six straight in MLS play. That has made for a steady slide down the Eastern Conference standings with TFC currently ninth, occupying the last playoff wild-card position.

“When it comes to (Wednesday’s game), what you’ve done last week, the week before doesn’t really matter,” said Smyrniotis.

Forge (5-4-3) has won just one of its last five outings (1-2-2) and sits fifth in the eight-team CPL, holding on to the last playoff spot. It’s well below where the four-time league champion normally finds itself.

Forge has conceded seven goals in the last two games, beaten 4-3 at Atletico Ottawa and drawing visiting Vancouver FC 3-3. In both cases, Forge conceded late with league-leading Ottawa scoring the winner in the 93rd minute and third-place Vancouver tying it up in the 91st.

Herdman, however, sees a real challenge in Forge, starting with the artificial turf in Hamilton.

“You’re battling the environment as a starting point,” he said. “They’re really strong at their home base. They get good support there.

“They’ve been together for a long time. A good core group of players in (Tristan) Borges, (David) Choiniere and (Kyle) Bekker. Those players make the team tick. They’re very good players who understand each other, who understand the coach’s vision. And a coach that’s been with the team five years. It’s rare that you get to see that too often in North America, that sort of consistency. A team that’s won a lot with a clear tactical identity.”

The two teams are operating under vastly different bottom lines.

The maximum CPL clubs can spend on their player roster is $1,212,500. Toronto’s three designated players – Italians Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Laryea – make a combined US$22.91 million.

TFC made it to the semifinals by blanking League1 Ontario’s Simcoe County Rovers 5-0 in the single-game preliminary round and Ligue1 Quebec’s CS Saint-Laurent 11-1 in the two-legged quarterfinal.

Forge defeated CPL rival York United 3-1 in the preliminary round before upsetting CF Montreal 3-2 on aggregate in quarterfinal play.

Prior to this year, Forge had lost all four cup encounters with MLS opposition, beaten by Toronto via penalty shootout in the pandemic-delayed 2020 final, and ousted by CF Montreal in the 2021 ‘and ’23 semifinals and ’22 quarterfinal.

Toronto has won the tournament eight times and finished runner-up five times. But it has not lifted the trophy since the 2020 competition.

“There’s an excitement when it’s a cup match “¦ Two games away from a final, which both teams are competing for that now,” said Herdman. “Getting to a cup final will mean a lot to everyone at the club.”

There are plenty of links between the two teams other than the congested 75-kilometre strip of highway that separates their two stadiums.

Bekker and forward Jordan Hamilton both played for Toronto while Borges and forward Kwasi Poku spent time in the Toronto academy.

The Canadian Championship winner hoists the Voyageurs Cup, collects $50,000 (from Canada Soccer) and earns a berth in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the elite club competition in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The Canadian Championship is sponsored by Telus.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2024

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