Bobby Smyrniotis – Forge FC – Tactical Analysis

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Despite sitting in third place in the Canadian Premier League table, you could make the argument that Forge FC have been the best side in the league. The Hammers have accumulated the same amount of wins as Cavalry and Pacific ahead of them, each of whom have played more games. In that time, Smyrniotis’ side have conceded just 13 goals, scoring 31 along the way, the best record in both categories. So with that, we analyze the Canadian Premier League’s most dominant team, and what lies in store for the remainder of the season for Forge FC.

SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-3-3

Like the vast majority of possession-based teams in world football, Forge FC deploy a 4-3-3 formation, prioritizing short passing, triangulations in the wide areas, and complete control of the ball. The 4-3-3 serves as the perfect platform to allow their players to go on and express themselves within this possession-based dogma, becoming something of a free-flowing 3-2-5 to 2-4-4 in attack, and then a tightly compact 4-1-4-1 in defense.

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Between the posts, Triston Henry starts in goal, and has conceded just 11 goals in his 13 matches. Acting as a ‘Sweeper Keeper’ in behind a relatively high-line, the Canadian-born keeper has increased his command and communication this season, keeping five clean sheets in the process. He’s been backed up by an unbreakable defence, that only became more resolute after the joint-arrivals of Rezart Rama and Abdulmalik Owolabi-Belewu. A combative warrior who stands out both in and out of possession, Rama has been an absolute stalwart at right-back since his arrival. Owolabi-Belewu’s physicality and strong ball-carrying have also been a welcomed addition to the team, as Garven Metusala now eases his way back into the team. Dominic Samuel’s early season injury has however meant that Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson has needed to swap positions and fill in at centre-back, instead of his ‘anchoring’ role in the ‘number 6’ position.

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Jönsson has been exceptional in the position, simultaneously fulfilling the role of a ‘Sweeper’ and ‘Ball-Playing-Centre-Half’ wrapped up in one, and perfectly complimenting all the young faces around him with his class composure and expert timing of challenges. Ashtone Morgan has also added some valuable experience on the left-hand-side of the defense, acting as a slightly more adventurous, touch-line hugging full-back than Rama on the other side.

In midfield, Alessandro Hojabrpour started the season in fine form as a ‘Box-to-Box’ number 8, and has now settled into Jönsson’s stead as the team’s undeniable ‘number 6’. From there, he can set the tempo of the match, remain the deepest of midfielders in defensive phases, and help to break up the play in defensive transitions.

Kyle Bekker also masterfully helps to set the tempo and spray long passes about, without ever mitigating his creative edge in the final third. That leaves Aboubacar Sissoko as the highest midfield member, and a strong creative influence in helping to overload the right-hand-side and push David Choinière into advantageous positions where he can create chances. Sissoko started the season as an ‘Inverted Fullback‘ after Elimane Cisse’s departure, but has since taken over the mantle of Hojabrpour’s ‘box-to-box’ role given the positional change to Jönsson and the arrival of Rezart Rama.

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In attack, Forge have been deadly in scoring 31 goals in their 14 matches, with Woobens Pacius emerging as the in-form candidate in recent weeks ahead of Terran Campbell. The ‘Fox in the Box’ is backed up by two creative influences surrounding him on either side, both of whom wonderfully play as ‘Inverted Wingers’ to combine with their striker in the final third and work their magic. On 8 goals in his 14 appearances, Woobens has scored a goal nearly every 90 minutes for Forge (0.89), with the likes of Choinière, Borges and Bekker constantly working to create chances around his movement.

Smyrniotis has shown some flexibility in changing to a 3-4-2-1 to achieve different outcomes this season, but the 4-3-3 remains the team’s tried and tested system of play. The balance of the team has achieved complete equilibrium since those positional tweaks and the arrivals of Olowabi-Belewu and Rama, and it’s only a matter of time before Forge take first position in the table.

IN POSSESSION

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Forge FC are the most fluid, flexible and possession-oriented team in the division. They pass the ball around with ease and class, prioritizing combinations in the wide areas through overloads and quick short passing sequences.

On the right, the full-back may be more likely to invert into the half-spaces, as Choinière or Sissoko hold the width. Over on the left, the left-back is the one that typically takes advantage of wide spaces, pushing Tristan Borges inside as a ‘Creative Ten’, where he thrives in picking pockets of space to pass the ball into the penalty area. But across the board, positional play and rotation remain in play, meaning that variability will occur where Rama drifts wide, Choinière shifts inside, and vice versa down the left.

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Choinière himself has been particularly impressive this season in finding pockets of space to create chances, completing 1.58 key passes per game. He thrives in finding space down the edge of the eighteen where he can then cut the ball back across the eighteen, onto the likes of Pacius or Borges to finish. Forge’s deadliness expands when you add in the fact that Tristan Borges also happens to be an exceptional creator, with an expert eye for the killer pass to break a low-block and put his striker through on goal.

Beyond individual brilliance, the sheer numbers that they throw into the attack will always compound matters for the opposition and stunt their ability to sit back in a low-block.

Their 3-2-5 attacking shape positions Bekker and Hojabrpour in sound positions to maintain a solid rest-defense, whilst urging Ashtone Morgan or Kwasi Poku into the attack to combine and deliver into the box. Pacius is the type of striker who thrives off passes into the penalty area, where he’s often excellently positioned to finish off chances.

As he shifts wide to combine, he will then just need to continue to develop his incisiveness when it comes to timing those runs into the box, and ensuring he’s perfectly placed to finish at the right moment. Terrance Campbell is more dynamic in shifting wide to receive and exploiting the half-spaces, but Woobens maintains a better track record for timing his runs around the pitch and picking up the right pockets of space in the box to hammer home the finish. Campbell has been caught offside 0.8 times per game this season, double that of Pacius (0.4). Woobens’ heatmap is far more vertical than Campbell’s, and that allows the width to naturally come from other players without mitigating their ability to finish off chances at the right moment.

One advantage of the 3-2-5 is not only that it pushes so many numbers into attack, but in the natural advantages it allows in switching play from side to side, and maintaining all the necessary components when looking to change the point of the attack. That is, both Hojabrpour and Bekker can remain deep and facilitate beautiful switches of play, whilst the likes of Morgan, Choinière or Borges maintain width to stretch the field and combine. Achinioti-Jönsson would also qualify as an exceptional long passer of the ball, and Rama often selects nice moments to play progressive passes over the top to Choinière or Sissoko down the right-half-spaces. Forge always prioritize short passing over these long passing attempts, but having the quality of Hojabrpour (68%) and Jönsson (73%) to spray beautiful diagonals gives them a cutting edge when hope seems lost in breaking down those low-blocks.

This is an excellent example of a moment in time where Jönsson wonderfully sliced the opposition in half through an exceptional long pass, where the Hammers were then able to use their short-passing wide overloads to deliver an incisive pass into the penalty area for Campbell to finish.

Here you can see the simultaneous brilliance and dynamism of Sissoko, who promptly picks out the perfect pass after Achinioti-Jönsson’s long switch. The Hammers have benefited in the second half of this campaign through pushing the Malian midfielder into advanced areas, where he can create more space for Bekker and Hojabrpour to pull the strings from deep. Even despite playing half the season as a right-full-back, no player in the Canadian Premier League has accumulated more accurate passes in the opposition half or in the final third than Aboubacar Sissoko, highlighting his fantastic, almost unrecognized ability on the ball.

With goals like the one above, the Hammers have also accumulated a nice recognition of when to play forward and when to patiently circulate the ball, a massive part of that 61% possession dominance that has led to 31 goals scored so far this season.

As the opposition sit back in response to that 3-2-5 attacking shape, spaces then open for the likes of Metusala and Owolabi-Belewu to exploit half-spaces on the dribble, and both just so happen to be powerful carriers of the ball. They can then draw the opposition into a pressing situation, where new spaces open up behind for a bit of incisiveness. Borges is a master of operating in between the lines and finding pockets even when none exist, so he too thrives when the centre-backs carry the ball forward and advance toward the final third.

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But their attacking excellence doesn’t stop there, and in fact stems in large part from the brilliance they show in defensive phases. Smyrniotis’ side are excellent in generating chances through their intensified pressure, where they will often pester the opposition into oblivion through diamond shapes that leave little room to escape. The Hammers have won possession in the final third 7.4 times per game, the most in the division, allowing them to maintain control for 61% of the time in their matches so far, and continue their scoring trends. With so many numbers thrown into the attack, their counter-press is particularly effective, immediately accumulating numbers around the ball when possession changes hands.

OUT OF POSSESSION

Out of possession, no team in the league have been hungrier to win back the ball. The Hammers have regained possession in the final third more than any other team in the league, where the likes of Borges, Sissoko and Bekker push and probe to force the opposition into crucial mistakes. It’s not uncommon for Smyrniotis’ side to lull their opposition into a false sense of security, before immediately hitting them with a sucker-punch and a full-throttle defensive push.

From the above clip you can see a great example of their favourite pressing trigger – a player receiving with their back to goal, in this case from a particularly slow pass. But they have remained resolute even when stunting the opposition in their mid-block 4-1-4-1 shape, shuffling with the play until they win back possession with ease. With tactically versatile and intelligent performers everywhere in the team, it’s unsurprising how capable they are at winning back the ball. But despite maintaining by far the best possession record, the Hammers have still accomplished 11.5 tackles per match, the fourth most in the division. That takes some doing, and shows just how relentless and astutely aware the likes of Sissoko, Achinioti-Jönsson and Metusala are when it comes to timing their challenges collectively and individually. Bekker’s even won 90% of his tackles this season, positioning himself as an underrated challenger in defensive phases.

As already mentioned, Forge typically defend in a 4-1-4-1 shape across the phases. Not only do they remain compact horizontally in shutting down the space, but they also compact together vertically, operating in a high-line that leaves little room for the opposition to play through the thirds.

The lines of four may even be slightly slanted depending on the movement of the ball, with the far-sided winger typically operating on the lowest end of the pendulum. This corresponds nicely with the opposition’s attempts to push their far-sided full-back forward into the attack. Borges for example wonderfully mitigated the movement of Olakunle Dada-Luke in Forge’s most recent win over Pacific, where they completely failed the first time they played James Merriman’s team in B.C.

You may find that as the ball progresses toward their goal, that Sissoko remains withdrawn from the defensive areas, instead ready to aid in counter-attacks or stop backward momentum from accumulating. The shape can then occasionally shift into a 4-2-3-1 in response to the opposition or Sissoko’s higher attacking role. But a 4-5-1 is more likely, as all members of the team compact and condense the situation. With Achinioti-Jönsson (or ‘AJ’ as I call him in my notes) always ready to sweep in behind, Forge rarely allow their opposition to progress toward goal. I’d go so far as to say that the 26-year-old is the most complete player in the league, and it shows up in his 4.1 tackles + interceptions per game in a high-possession team. Astutely aware of his surroundings, AJ has been wonderfully complimented by tough tacklers like Owolabi-Belewu and Metusala at the back, inspiring the best defensive record in the league.

When it comes to conceding goals, Forge still need to clean up their occasional messes when it comes to defending set-pieces, as they can often become susceptible to ball-watching in those incredibly difficult moments where the ball hangs in the air. They don’t concede many corners or free kicks, but it’s one of the only areas of the game in which they don’t possess the same level of total control and command.

But after conceding just 13 goals this season, Smyrniotis and his staff can be incredibly proud of their team’s defensive work rate, and the class they show in regaining possession to stay in control of any situation.

CONCLUSION

Forge FC have been the most dominant team in the 2022 Canadian Premier League season, and it’s only a matter of time before they explode into first place again and run away from the pack. Not only have they accumulated the most possession and goals, but they’ve wonderfully won back the ball more than any other team in the league, through their sturdy 4-1-4-1 mid-block and high-pressing intensity. Through emphasizing positional play, wide overloads and switching play in the final third, very few teams have managed to combat the Hammers this season. That will likely only continue as Smyrniotis’ side continue to grow into the season, developing an undeniable chemistry that seemingly cannot be broken.


So there it is! An analysis of Forge FC in the Canadian Premier League. Be sure to check out more of our tactical analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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