Shout. Shout. Let it all out. Forge are the team you have nightmares about, so come on. I’m talking to you. Come on.
The atmosphere inside Tim Hortons Field was electric on Sunday, culminated by a string of impressive performances leading toward another top class win over first-placed Pacific FC. The Hammers dominated the tempo of the match from start to finish, with the entire squad in full flow and complete harmony over a tired Pacific team. Impressively, Forge’s recent run of form has been accompanied by the introduction of two new faces to the team – Malik Owolabi-Belewu and Rezart Rama. Both have fit like a glove in Bobby Smyrniotis’ side, pushing others into roles that allow the entire team to achieve equilibrium and stability. Here is our match analysis of Forge’s 3-0 win over Pacific, and the impressive accomplishments of Owolabi-Belewu and Rama since entering the frame.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-3-3 / 4-1-4-1
With injuries to the likes of Dom Samuel and Garven Metusala, Forge have still managed to find consistency in starting eleven and stability in their 4-3-3 to 4-1-4-1 shape. Achinioti-Jönsson has filled in wonderfully at centre-back, dictating the tempo of the match, sweeping in behind his fellow defenders, and organizing the entire back four to great heights. But his move to centre-back has also allowed another new face to flourish. Alessandro Hojabrpour has played with class, heart and determination in recent weeks, acting as another crucial tempo setter to Forge’s play. Anchoring in front of the back-line and dropping in to pick up possession, Hojabrpour has been crucial to the team’s rest defense and build-up play, operating smoothly in that ‘number six’ role.
Alongside him in midfield, he’s been given a box-to-box engine in Aboubacar Sissoko, who started the season as the team’s unmovable right-back. Sissoko’s fulfilled the role marvelously, given greater license to get forward and work his incisive passing in the final third. But the Malian international has only been given freedom to do so following the addition of Rezart Rama – an Albanian international who moved from Nottingham Forest’s U23 team less than a month ago. Rama came to the team as a rock-solid centre-back and capable distributor out from the back, but has instead made his name known as an up-and-down right-back in Smyrniotis’ side. Sometimes dropping into a back-three as Ashtone Morgan advances down the left, Rama fully understands his role in how to best situate himself to support the needs of his teammates. In less than a month, the Albanian has performed with a sense of poise and swagger that would usually only come years into a player’s tenure at a club. But he’s not the only new face to make his mark in the past few weeks.
Malik Owolabi-Belewu has enjoyed an excellent start to life with the Hammers after arriving in April as a free agent. Initially it looked as though the former TFC Reserves man would provide additional support to Ashtone Morgan as a high-flying wing-back, but now Owolabi-Belewu has completely settled in as a ball-playing centre-half in Smyrinotis’ system. With the 19-year-old sometimes carrying the ball forward and advancing into the attack, Achinioti-Jonsson can then steadily anchor the back-line and switch play left to right, not to mention the fantastic long spreads he pulls off each and every match.
Completing the system, Forge would be nowhere this season without the brilliance of David Choiniere, a key cog in pushing and driving the team on and keeping the tempo high. Tristan Borges has also come to life in recent weeks, playing some of his best football in an orange shirt as he dribbles his way through congested areas and arrives late into the box to finish off chances. Ashtone Morgan’s been solid since returning from his early season injury, particularly in advancing down the left as Borges and/or Choiniere drift inside and operate in half-spaces. Then there’s Triston Henry – who’s grown in confidence, command, and communication as the season’s progressed, and now looks like one of the top leaders in the team.
Speaking of leaders, Kyle Bekker has continued his role as an excellent progressive passer and energetic presser, operating in the midfield trio that plays in behind the team’s centre-forward. On this particular occasion, that number nine was Woobens Pacius, who had arguably his best game in a Forge FC shirt. With a goal and an assist to his name, the 21-year-old forward can walk away from the match happily, knowing he put in an excellent claim to start the next match up front ahead of Terran Campbell.
TEMPO & CONTROL
Forge FC would have been expecting a tough battle against the league’s top side, even despite injuries to the likes of Manny Aparicio and Sean Young. But the Hammers immediately came out of the gates like a team of energizer bunnies, dominating the play with 57% possession throughout. It took just 13 minutes for Smyrniotis’ side to grab not only an opener but a seconder, with Pacific looking shell-shocked, jet-lagged and immobile from the heat.
Smyrniotis’s side clearly hit the nail on the Hammer head with their analysis leading up to the match, identifying the exact ways to play over, through and around the Island-based club at every step of the way. Out from the back, Forge continuously broke Pacific’s press through playing a one-two between goalkeeper and left-centre-back, before shifting the ball up the middle to Alessandro Hojabrpour.
Again, the 21-year-old fantastically helped to dictate the play and urge progressive passes forward, where Forge were fantastic in selecting their moments to switch play from one side to another.
Further down the pitch, the team attacked with a 3-2-5, with one full-back staying put and the other one galloping forward to join in on the fun. Sissoko operated high alongside Pacius, with both taking turns dropping toward the ball and engaging in the team’s wide overloads. Both Rama and Morgan held important roles in the final third, with Morgan delivering exceptional crosses into the box, and even perfectly timing his run into the left-half-space to hammer home a finish for the team’s opening goal.
As you can see from the highlight clip, Forge’s frequent overloading down the wide areas between wing, full-back and central midfielder allows for the kind of variation of movement for a player like Morgan to pick up a surprising pocket of space and blast the ball into the back of the net.
In addition to all the incisiveness and switching, Forge also correctly assessed moments to play passes over top and utilize Pacius’s running down the channels. Owolabi-Belewu played a few nicely clipped balls over Pacific’s defense for Pacius, Sissoko, and even Morgan, and then integrated other moments of space seeking via carrying the ball into the opposition’s half. The 19-year-old completed all 3 of his dribbles in the match – more than Marco Bustos and Dada-Luke combined. Hojabrpour and Achinioti-Jonsson also looked for the same long passes over the top, with the Swede sometimes slightly overhitting his floaters into the wide areas. Hojabrpour on the other hand completed 62 of his 66 passes (94%), including 4/5 of his long-passing attempts, magnificently covering the width of the pitch as he hovered around to engage in Forge’s possession.
Doing their best work and damage in the wide areas, Forge nicely created space in between Pacific’s outside-centre-backs and wing-backs, where Samake and TMG couldn’t cope with the Hammers’ pace and trickery out wide. The frequent switching of play from central players like Achinioti-Jönsson and Hojabrpour gave Pacific little cause for hope, and eventually had the fans chanting “Can we play you every week?” to Merriman’s men.
DEFENSIVE STANCE & STABILITY
Aside from an oddly formed 4-3 win over Edmonton, Forge FC have been forcefully resolute since the arrivals of Rama and Owolabi-Belewu, particularly with Achinioti-Jönsson organizing the back-line, and Henry stepping up his command and communication.
The team press and defend in a 4-1-4-1 shape, that can quickly become 4-5-1 as Hojabrpour steps up in line with Bekker and Sissoko. Compact and resolute, Forge pacify any space out wide through their narrow press and high-line, only leaving room for the odd switch of play from right to left. Rama for example allowed Heard to receive in space on a few occasions, particularly from Meilleur-Giguère’s sumptuous diagonal passes. Further, Borges sometimes stepped far out of his way to press the ball down the left, opening corridors of space where Pacific love to overload the right between Dada-Luke and Bustos. But far and wide, Borges dealt with his defensive tasks well, even sometimes operating lower than the other four in his midfield unit to track Pacific’s rotations.
On the few occasions that Merriman’s team broke in behind and found the gaps between Jönsson and Owolabi-Belewu, Henry sped off his line to sweep in behind and put a strong hand to end any doubt.
With their commanding presence in the air and every player up for the task, Forge won 73% of the aerial duels in the match, and 65% of their attempted tackles. Even Pacius played his part right from the front, pressing and probing against Pacific’s attempts out from the back and forcing long passes.
His angling could have been arched differently to force the keeper into the wide left more often, where Borges often met his pressing intensity masterfully. But in addition to his hold-up play, assist-making and penalty kick poise, Pacius played an important part in leading the team’s energy right from the front of their defense.
Overarchingly, Forge have looked more assured since the addition of Rama into the back-line in particular, with the former Nottingham man providing bucket loads of steel and solidity in his 1v1 duels. With a 2+2 to 3+2 rest-defense in place, Hojabrpour has also performed admirably in covering the wide areas for advancing full-backs and breaking up the play, allowing the Hammers to continuously maintain control. With four clean sheets in their last nine fixtures in all competitions, Forge are now on a real roll of defensive resiliency.
With injuries galore at the start of the season, many worried that Forge FC would not be able to find the same consistency they attained in 2021. But ever since the arrivals of Rezart Rama and Malik Owolabi-Belewu, accompanied by positional changes for the likes of Hojabrpour, Sissoko and Achinioti-Jönsson, Forge have been an unstoppable force. Not only have they been scoring goals for fun through their incisiveness in the final third, they’ve also amplified their pressing intensity and defensive organization, proving to be as the fans say – the team you have nightmares about.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Forge’s 3-0 win over Pacific FC. Be sure to check out more from our Canadian Premier League section, more Match Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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