The game was the winner on CPL opening day

Forge FC 1 York 9 FC 1

HAMILTON — The first Canadian Premier League match between Forge FC and York 9 FC ended in a draw.

But there were plenty of winners on the day.

Both teams set out to attack and put on an entertaining display that sent the 17,611 home pleased following a 1-1 draw at Tim Hortons Field.

“Overall it was what everyone hoped it would be — it was a great festival for the game. It’s a great starting point for what we’re going to build for the future,” said Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis. “As coaches and players we always want the three points, you want the win, but we want to also make sure that this is an entertaining product for everyone that’s coming out here to show that Canadians can really play this game and I think we showed that over 90 minutes today.”

After the smoke and fireworks cleared from the pre-game festivities, the fireworks started early on the pitch.

Forge keeper Triston Henry was forced into a point-blank save two minutes into the match and seconds later he had no answer when Ryan Telfer from York 9 FC broke in clean on goal and scored the first goal in CPL history 2:53 into the match.

York 9 captain Manuel Aparicio sent an early through ball that Telfer read early. He made a central run off the left flank, fought through the sliding challenge of Forge defender Dominic Samuel to get a clean look at goal.

“It’s something we’ve done off the training pitch,” Telfer said. “I realized that Manny had space and time to turn and there was only one thing on my mind and Manny knew exactly where I was going to be. It worked out perfect.”

Telfer was one of the bright spots in the 2018 Toronto FC campaign but was somewhat unexpectedly loaned to York 9 to start the season. The significance of the moment began to hit him once he got back into the locker room and saw the texts — particularly from his family — that had come in.

“There’s no better feeling than to have your family be proud of you,” Telfer said. “To be known as the first goal-scorer in this new league is something special to me and honestly it didn’t hit until after the game that this one is going into the history books. It’s a very special feeling.”

Emery Welshman came very close to equalizing for Forge with a deft overhead kick that went just wide.

An early injury to Forge’s Jonathan Grant led to Bertrand Owundi coming in to play in the centre of defence and Guiliano Frano slotting over in Grant’s right back role after 13 minutes.

York 9 keeper made the best of his five saves late in the first half to deny a lively Tristan Borges at full stretch. Borges also hit the bar with a good strike from distance.

Forge were the better side in the second half, owning 66 per cent possession and taking all 10 shots in the frame. The home side finally saw their possession pay off in the 78th minute. A Forge substitution saw Welshman move out to the right flank and he immediately got around the back and found substitute Kadell Thomas at the back post. Thomas took a touch and fired his right-footed shot into the top corner.

“I saw Emery going down the line and when he sent that cross in, I backed up, I waited to see if it would drop and it dropped onto my foot. I said ‘nothing else to do but just kick it’ and it sailed into the top right corner,” said Thomas.

A Sigma FC veteran, Thomas scored 21 minutes into his professional debut. The 22-year-old scored eight goals last season for Sigma. He toiled in a pair of junior colleges in Florida and Kansas before returning home, training three days a week and working a part-time job while playing in League1 Ontario last season.

“Even two or three years ago I couldn’t imagine anything like this being here. It’s really big,” Thomas said of having this opportunity.

Smyrniotis said that when Thomas came to Sigma from Brampton at 15 he was a bundle of energy that didn’t always know how to corral his talents.

“He was one of those guys where if there was a pro league, he would have been playing in it two or three years ago. The one great thing about him is that he has a great mentality,” Smyrniotis said. “It’s not easy training four times a week in an amateur environment and stick to it and hope something will come.

“The great story that comes out of that is that he’s one of those players we don’t know about without the Canadian Premier League. I always talk about the players that nobody knows about. He’s one of those players that I think will surprise a lot of people in a positive way this year. I think there will be many other ‘Kadell Thomases’ on Forge, but more importantly all across the league.”

It was the biggest game on the biggest stage of Thomas’ career.

“I think the most I ever played in front of was maybe 800, so something like that I couldn’t really imagine,” said Thomas who delighted all but the travelling York 9 supporters by scoring. “Watching that back, I didn’t know what to do. I saw it go in and threw my hands up and went on a run.

“I did (have something planned), but I forgot. It was too much.”

The match got heated as it went progressed and developed a true derby feel.

“I think that’s just from the areas that we’re from. The southern Ontario youth soccer system that we grew up in, playing OSISL and rep., it’s rough. You’re playing Brampton East, Mississauga Erin Mills, Scarborough,” said Welshman. “You’re playing a rough brand — athletic, rough and still a lot of quality. That was OSISL soccer on the highest level.”

Aparicio picked up the first yellow card in league history in the second half and was the first player sent off deep into injury time when his tactical hand ball to break up a counter-attack saw him booked for a second time.

“He was quite emotional after the game because he felt like he let the team down. I know what he was trying to do. He was trying to make a professional foul. They were about to break. Maybe he should have used his head and not his hand… it’s a reaction that he made. I know what he was trying to do. I can’t be mad at him,” said York 9 head coach Jim Brennan who was asked if there was any pride in his player picked up the first red and he replied “maybe the first yellow.”

Forge captain Kyle Bekker was probably fortunate the VAR isn’t in place in the CPL this season after he appeared to throw an elbow that dropped York 9’s Joe Di Chiara.

“I would love to dive into these questions and speak my mind and tell you what I think,” Brennan said. “If I start talking about the referees I’m only asking for trouble. But I know what you’re getting at, so I’ll just give you a little wink.”

The wind was gusting to the point that the ball wouldn’t stay still on a corner kick. Smyrniotis said that was nothing they aren’t used to in Hamilton, though the conditions and the occasion led to a nervy start. On the whole, though, both sides felt they put on a strong display and hoped the spectators left entertained.

“As for the standard of play, the quality of the Canadian players and the few internationals that we have is so high. You saw the game. The quality we played out of the back was something special,” Welshman said. “I’m going to say that we out-played York for 87 minutes, except for the three minutes when they scored that goal. They didn’t want to be there for the rest of the game. That’s how it goes. That’s how soccer is. The ball didn’t want to go in the net for us today. On another day it could have been 6 or 7-1.”

And with that, the CPL has its first “bulletin board quote” stoking the fire and making one of the league’s first derbies a little more real.

Forge FC 1 York 9 FC 1

April 27, 2019 — 1 p.m., 4ºC at kickoff. Windy and overcast.

Forge FC: Henry; Grant (Owundi 13), Samuel, Frano, Awuah; Achinioti Jönsson (Zajac 77); Borges, Cissé, Bekker, Nanco (Thomas 56); Welshman.

York 9 FC: Ingham; Springer, Gasparotto, Gogarty; Di Chiara (Abzi 87), Aparicio; Porter, Murofushi (Ricci 67), Telfer; Rollocks, Adjei (Gallas 80).

Goals: York 9 FC: Telfer (3); Forge FC: Thomas (78).

Cautions: York 9 FC: Aparicio (59); Forge FC: Frano (68).

Expulsion: York 9 FC: Aparicio (94).

Referee: David Gantar. Assistant Referees: Philippe Brière, Peter Pendli.

Attendance: 17,611 — Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton.

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