Forge FC midfielder Tristan Borges capped a memorable season Tuesday by becoming the first winner of the Canadian Premier League Player of the Year Award.
The Toronto native, who turned 21 in late August, also collected the Best Canadian Under-21 Player award and the Golden Boot as top scorer in the league’s inaugural season.
Now the question is can the CPL keep him?
“We’ll see, we’ll see,” Borges said with a smile when asked if he would be back next season.
While under contract for another year, Borges has drawn interest from other leagues. Hamilton’s Forge FC does not have to sell him but the CPL is designed to promote Canadian talent not hold it back.
And with head coach Bobby Smyrniotis’s access to the Sigma FC talent pipeline, Forge FC will likely have a next man up.
Borges, who has represented Canada at the under-17 and under-20 level, played for SC Heerenveen’s under-21 side in the Netherlands from 2016 to ’18. The CPL proved to be a perfect platform to showcase his skills.
The seven-team league averaged 4,500 in attendance in Year 1. Commissioner David Clanachan said there is a chance the league may add a team in 2020 — Langley, B.C., is said to be a front-runner — but may wait another year before opening its doors to several new franchises.
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Cavalry FC’s Tommy Wheeldon Jr., who won coach of the year honours after his Calgary team finished runner-up to Forge FC, is proud of the league’s first-year performance.
“I think it’s a 10 out of 10 for effort,” said Wheeldon. “Nobody thought we could make it possible. All the skeptics out there that were saying ‘It would never work, the country’s too big.’ And there was a lot of ‘We can’t.’
“I think what the Canadian Premier League has done and all the ownership groups from coast to coach, the supporters’ groups, have said ‘Actually we can. And we will.’ What we’ve done now by doing that is we’re burning the ships and there’s no going back. We’re only going to go forward.”
Borges said the CPL had surpassed expectations in its first year.
“It’s a bright future for the CPL. It’s a bright future for players like me,” he said.
The five-foot-seven midfielder beat out Forge FC teammate Kyle Bekker and Cavalry FC striker Dominique Malonga for MVP honours as the CPL handed out its first individual hardware. Borges led the league with 13 goals, an output that included bending in a corner against HFX Wanderers FC for goal No. 7 on the season.
He also scored in Forge FC’s 2-0 aggregate win over Cavalry FC in the two-legged championship game. Borges scored the lone goal in the opening leg in Hamilton before being ejected. But his red card was subsequently rescinded by Canada Soccer’s disciplinary committee, allowing him to play in the Nov. 2 rematch.
Wheeldon coached Borges in the Canadian under-17 setup.
“He was exceptional this year,” said Wheeldon. “Big players make big impacts and he made a big impact in the (CPL) finals.”
Borges, who tied for the league lead with five assists, beat out Pacific FC forward Terran Campbell and York 9 fullback Diyaeddine Abzi for the best Canadian U-21 honours.
The Golden Glove, honouring the top goalkeeper, went to Cavalry’s Marco Carducci over York 9’s Nathan Ingham and FC Edmonton’s Connor James.
Carducci finished tied with Forge’s Tristan Henry with nine shutouts this season.
The 23-year-old Calgary native also won a Volkswagen Jetta GLI as the Volkswagen Premier Performer, an award based on season-long statistical performance.
The other coach award finalists were Forge FC’s Smyrniotis and York 9’s Jim Brennan.
Cavalry FC won its first seven games and topped the CPL table in both the spring and fall campaigns for an overall record of 19-4-5. Forge’s record was 17-6-5.
Cavalry FC had the league’s stingiest defence, conceding just 19 goals in 28 games. It also defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round of the Canadian Championship.
The awards, which took in both the spring and fall seasons as well as the playoffs, were decided on by a media panel from across Canada.
Winners received Inuit art soap stone carving created by artists from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut.