Forge FC returned to training Monday some 220 days after winning the inaugural Canadian Premier League title in early November.
While the Hamilton team squeezed in two weeks of training time before the pandemic ground things to a halt in March, coach Bobby Smyrniotis finally got to see all the talent at his disposal.
“For as simple as it was in what we were doing on the field, it’s just great to be out there,” he said. “It’s great to finally see these guys in person as opposed to seeing them on Zoom calls six times a week on various topics. All around from that end, it was a good first day.”
That included 21-year-old Belgian attacking midfielder Paolo Sabak, who signed in late April but did not make it on the field for the first portion of camp.
“By the time he got through his medicals back in March, we literally shut down a day before he would have started his first training session. So he’s had an interesting ride, coming into the country and within a few days everything getting shut down.
“It was his first time on the field and he was ecstatic to be out there.”
With 2019 MVP and Golden Boot winner Tristan Borges gone to Belgian club Oud-Heverlee Leuven, Forge is hoping Sabak can help fill the void. A product of KRC Genk’s storied youth academy, Sabak graduated to the senior team at age 17.
Forge FC also signed veteran goalkeeper David Monsalve in the off-season after Ottawa Fury FC closed shop.
The Hamilton team has 19 players signed with three international slots still empty.
“We’re still looking to add one or two guys to the roster,” said Smyrniotis.
Easier said than done with travel and other restrictions due to the pandemic.
“So there’s a little bit of uncertainty there,” he continued. “We’ve cast our net a little bit everywhere as we usually do and (we’re) working on a couple of things.”
Cavalry FC also got the green light to resume training Monday after receiving approval from local health authorities and the CPL.
HFX Wanderers FC, Pacific FC, York 9 FC, Valour FC and expansion Atletico Ottawa resumed training last week. FC Edmonton is the lone franchise waiting on approval.
The eight-team CPL is taking a phased approach in its return to training, starting with non-contact individual and then small group workouts with players and staff observing safety protocols and physical distancing measures.
The CPL was scheduled to start its second season on April 11 but postponed the kickoff on March 20, due to the global pandemic.
The league is looking at a tournament to kick off the revamped 2020 season in July with Prince Edward Island and Vancouver Island leading candidates to host.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press