Jeff Paulus debuted his side at The Island Games in a 5-4-1 formation, while Bobby Smyrniotis continued with his preferred 4-3-3. The obviously interesting wrinkle early on for Forge was once again a full back tucking inside, with the versatile Kwame Awuah often moving centrally, and Kyle Bekker playing wider on the left hand side at times.
While Awuah’s central positioning led to him scoring the opening goal, it wasn’t necessarily due to any advantage created by the tactical nuances of the Forge XI. The Eddies weren’t exactly caught in confusion due to the rotation of Forge’s players on that particular passage. Perhaps what the build up best illustrated was the versatility of Forge’s players. Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson dropped into centre back, Daniel Krutzen and David Edgar were essentially outside backs in a back three, Dominic Samuel was providing width on the right wing, and Bekker was ostensibly playing as a left winger.
Forge’s fluidity in possession and willingness to get men forward allowed them to find gaps between Edmonton’s lines, and when they lost the ball they also used their counter-pressed at times as a weapon. On the other hand, the Alberta side seemed content in staying in their 5-4-1 shape, with Keven Aleman and Hanson Boakai having some license to roam infield to support Easton Ongaro. But the rigid nature of their game plan meant that they found it difficult to build attacks if they weren’t countering. In fact, when Forge did return to their defensive shape, Edmonton’s most effective plan in possession seemed to be to lull the defending champs back onto them by slowly playing back to their centre backs before launching long diagonals beyond Forge’s pushed forward defensive line.
As the match continued, Awuah abandoned his central positioning when Forge had the ball. Perhaps it was because his team had the lead and Forge wanted to retain their shape more easily when they lost the ball, or perhaps it was never actually meant to be the Plan A for the Hamilton based squad. For the Eddies, they continued to look for raking diagonals into space in the wide channels.
Forge seemed content to manage the game, picking and choosing when to attack, and Edmonton started to press a little higher in the second half. Ongaro had a decent chance from Krutzen overplaying the ball, but Paulus’ side still lacked any sort of initiative in the match. Amer Didic went of injured with about 30 minutes to go which gave Edmonton the perfect opportunity to bring on another attacking piece, but they opted for three like for like substitutions.
A recurring problem for Edmonton was their lack in variation in attack. Boakai and Aleman are jinky wide combiners, not outright direct burners, and while Ongaro isn’t strictly a post player he’s also going to struggle to stretch a back line. This would be fine if Edmonton controlled possession and territory, or if their wing backs consistently bombed forward into wide spaces created by their attacking midfielders, but neither happened. While they did hit the post twice, both times were off set pieces. While creating from set pieces compared to open play is not a zero sum game, it is difficult to be a top team if set pieces are your main source of chance creation.
Substitute wing back Terique Mohammed did eventually play much higher in the second part of the second half, with Ramon Soria playing more as a left back when FC Edmonton had the ball, but while the formation may have changed somewhat the flow of the match did not. Edmonton were unable to press, possess, or counter effectively and Forge held on for three points.
The Forge FC keeper is good with the ball at his feet which makes him ideal for Bobby Smyrniotis’ team, but can be less than commanding of his area at times, especially on set pieces. This may seem a minor quibble, especially since his style lets Forge dominate the ball and therefore the game, but in matches like these when the only real chances the opposition has are from set pieces you want your keeper (and your whole team, of course) to be able to effectively deal with that attacking threat.
The Swede played most of the match in a deep lying playmaker role, pinging cross field balls with regularity. With Allan Zebie playing the somewhat nebulous role of ‘functional midfielder’ (this is not a negative term), Zetterberg was tasked with being the architect. He also made a couple decent runs, so it will be interesting to see how many hats he has to wear for FC Edmonton to be successful.
The way Bobby Smyrniotis plays is no secret to anyone, so the trends to focus on become more granular. When and why will he employ the central full back? Will he persist with loading the six yard box on attacking corners when it has been fruitless so far?
Set pieces, including throw ins, are clearly an attacking focus for Jeff Paulus. But how else are they going to create chances? Long diagonals can work if you have an effective out ball, but they didn’t for this match; and even if those balls work, you need to have a plan if the opposition sits back.