MATCH ANALYSIS: Vancouver FC secure hard-fought draw with Forge FC at Tim Hortons Field
Canadian Premier League

Final Score: Forge FC 0-0 Vancouver FC
Goalscorers: N/A
Game of the 2023 season: 21
CPL match: 388

Match in a minute or less

Forge FC and Vancouver FC played to a scoreless draw at Tim Hortons Field on Friday night, the first time a match has ever gone without a goal at the stadium in CPL regular season history.

It was also the first time Forge have been held goalless this season, while simultaneously the first clean sheet in Vancouver FC club history. The hosts had a significant amount of chances, with 18 shot attempts and 1.96 expected goals, but weren’t clinical enough with their chances.

Callum Irving made three saves to keep the shutout for the expansion side, while Forge’s Christopher Kalongo kept his first career clean sheet. Despite the draw, Forge remains undefeated through eight games in all competitions this season, and top of the CPL table for the time being, two points ahead of Pacific FC who visit Valour on Saturday.

Three Observations

Vancouver FC rebound with hard-working defensive performance to earn draw in Hamilton

After the worst loss in club history, 5-0 to Atlético Ottawa at home, and tough news on the injury front, it took Vancouver FC some time to regroup this week according to head coach Afshin Ghotbi.

“We came obviously after such a devastating loss, we had a difficult week trying to rebuild psychologically the group, missing three of our most important players I think,” said Ghotbi. “We focused on defending very well and I thought in the first 30 minutes especially we were very good, and if we were a little bit more focused and sharper I think we would have scored a goal.”

The draw was secured through a high-energy performance, in which Vancouver caused Forge plenty of issues in the first half with their press, in fact actually having more final third entries than the hosts in the opening 45, before bunkering down in the second half and providing some at times last-ditch defending to keep a clean sheet.

With Rocco Romeo serving his final match of suspension, it was an incredibly young Vancouver backline consisting of 22-year-old Min-Jae Kwak, 25-year-old Pele Martinez, 21-year-old Ibrahim Bakare and 19-year-old Tyler Crawford. The group combined for 19 clearances, 9 interceptions and 10 won tackles.

The young fullbacks did incredibly well as Forge tried to overload the wings, stopping a large number of attacks out wide. In the middle, Bakare and Martinez did their best to clear any dangerous moments that found their way into the Vancouver box. It was a team effort, and the entire squad deserves credit for their tactical buy-in and work rate, but the young backline in particular impressed.

Defensive actions from the Vancouver FC backline (Courtesy: Opta)

Forge create width and chances, unable to find quality in the final third

As they have done all season when opponents sit back, Forge FC looked to overload the wide areas against a defensively set opponent, and for the most part were able to get the ball into promising positions.

Rezart Rama, in particular, saw plenty of the ball throughout the match as he had 112 touches, and played 28 passes in the final third. They also had chances throughout the match to get players isolated in wide positions, but never quite got the final product right during a frustrating night.

In the end, the only number out of the 70.6 per cent possession, 36 touches in the Vancouver box, 18 shot attempts and 1.96 expected goals that will matter is the 0 that they put up on the scoreboard.

“I think we could have made a lot more of those motions, to be honest,” said Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis. “So we got in there and yeah of course finishing, if you look at some of the chances that we had with Woobens Pacius, with Noah Jensen in the first half, Jordan Hamilton has had two, a few at the end there…if we increase also the amount of times we were able to work certain patterns that we do, maybe you are happy that you have so much possession and 18 shots, but maybe you needed 30 today and five on the goal to get the goal, and sometimes that’s how it goes.”

It goes without saying, but the Hamilton side, and potentially the striker who goes by that surname, will have to be significantly more clinical midweek against CF Montréal should they want to progress to their second Canadian Championship final.

With major absences, Vancouver debut compact 4-4-1-1 formation

With Kadin Chung, Gabriel Bitar and Rocco Romeo missing Friday night’s match through injury and suspension, Vancouver manager Afshin Ghotbi had to make some significant changes to his lineup, including a formation change from the 4-3-3 that they have mostly deployed so far this season.

From the start, Vancouver rolled out a very compact 4-4-1-1 formation when they were defending, with Gael Sandoval playing a somewhat free role underneath Shaan Hundal up top. The switch in formation allowed them to better deal with the width which Forge has loved to use to find openings in opposition defences so far this season.

The front two, meanwhile, did a good job of stopping Forge from switching play at the back and launching attacks down the opposite flank. In moments where they were able to isolate Forge players wide, they also did a good job of initiating the press. From there, they were able to get Sandoval on the ball in positions to create.

“I think defensively with a block of eight we can close out the channels, especially the side channels,” said Ghotbi. “I also felt by doing that we could bring Sandoval closer to goal, and put him in a position where he has a block of eight behind him.”

When the club got possession, the formation would morph back into something closer to the traditional 4-3-3, with Nicky Gyimah pushing forward on the right wing. With Forge’s Kwasi Poku often pushing far up the left wing, there was a pocket of space left behind him where Gyimah was often able to find some joy.

The issue for Vancouver, however, was that they often didn’t have enough speed in attack, or players committed forward, to truly turn attacking moments into dangerous opportunities. As a result, they got pushed further and further back as the match wore on and they no longer had the energy to press Forge far up the field. But ultimately, the expansion side did enough to earn a big road point on the night. Player of the Match

Min-Jae Kwak, Vancouver FC 

The Vancouver fullback was excellent all match long as Forge consistently tried to overload his flank. He won 9 of his 15 duels, and made five tackles and eight clearances while also being isolated at times on the left flank by an aggressive Forge attack.

What’s next?

Forge FC are headed to Montréal for Canadian Championship action against CF Montréal at Stade Saputo on Wednesday, May 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET. They then head to TD Place on Saturday, May 27 for the first time since lifting the North Star Shield there, facing Atlético Ottawa (2:00 p.m. ET). Vancouver, meanwhile, are back home where they will face Valour for the first time on Sunday, May 28 (5:00 p.m. PT).

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