The Road to The Champions Cup Final: Forge FC and Cavalry FC
The Concacaf Champions Cup Draw was held on Wednesday, and the two participating Canadian Premier League sides learned their fate in the competition.
…but what might lie ahead for them if they break beyond their limits and cause a few upsets on their way to the final?
Forge FC: Tough Tests Only Get Tougher
Round One & Round of 16
It was quickly evident on the night that the right-side of the bracket was always going to be a bit easier for the CanPL teams than the left, so it should be no surprise that Forge FC ended up on the left side.
A team that is fueled by long odds and being cast as underdogs, Forge FC face one of the toughest teams in the cup right off the bat in Chivas Guadalajara. The Mexican side finished fifth in the recent Liga MX Apertura, and was knocked out of the Liguilla (AKA playoffs) in the Round of 16.
If the reigning North Star Cup champions manage to defy the odds, then their route will could get even more challenging in the Round of 16. They square up against the winner of fellow Mexican side Club America and Nicaraguan side Real Esteli. Club America are the current 2023 Liga MX Apertura regular season champions, and will face Tigres in the coming days in the final of the Liguilla.
Real Esteli, meanwhile, is also finished first in their Nicaraguan Liga Primera Apertura season, having lost only two games in 18 matches. They currently lead Managua in the semi-final of the Apertura playoffs, where they look to retain their championship from last year.
Both teams prove to be menacing foes, with the potential of facing Club America being arguably the tastier of the two ties. One thing for certain is that neither team will be a challenge that Forge will shy away from.
Quarter-Final & Semi-Final
If Forge manage to dethrone a pair of champions in the Round of 16, they will face either the winner of MLS side New England Revolution and pseudo-familiar Panamanian side C.A. Independiente de La Chorrera (CAI), or Costa Rica’s own LD Alajuelense, the reigning Central American Cup Champions. Alajuelense actually beat Real Esteli 4-1 in the final of the CAC, demonstrating how formidable a side the Costan Rican side can be. It will be a tough test for the Revs who finished 6th in the Supporter’s Shield, and for CAI, who dominated both Apertura and Clasure regular season’s and playoffs in 2023, to defeat Alajuelense to potentially meet Forge in the quarters.
Alajuelense look to be the favourites between the three, but the dominance from CAI and the tenacity of the Revs in their respective domestic leagues cannot be ignored. Either way, any of the three teams would be a devastating opponent for the Hamilton side.
And if Forge manage to surmount this incredibly ardorous journey all the way to the semi-final, they may face teams such as Liga MX’s best champion of 2023 Pachuca, the 2023 Caribbean Cup champion SV Robinhood, or a fellow North American side in the Philadelphia Union, amongst others. Those mammoths of an opponent would be the last obstacle for the Hammers before reaching the promised land of the Concacaf Champions Cup Final.
Cavalry FC: A More Favourable Draw?
Round One & Round of 16
While Forge FC got what many believe to the harder side of the bracket, Cavalry FC were drawn into the apparent easier side of the bracket, although one still rife with fierce competitors. Their road to the Champions Cup final begins with a stiff test against fellow North American side Orlando City SC, who finished second in the MLS Supporters’ Shield, just six points behind first-placed FC Cincinnati. Oscar Pareja’s side crashed out of last year’s Concacaf Champions competition against Tigres in the first round, and will look to avoid repeating that feat against the Cavs.
If Cavalry can bypass a stubborn Orlando side, they will potentially have an all-Canadian matchup in the Round of 16, if the stars align. They face the winner of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Mexican side Tigres UANL, in a rematch of the first knockout round of this season’s Leagues Cup. Tigres won that tie on penalties at BC Place, thanks to a Ranko Veselinovic miss. Both will be rigorous opponents, as the Whitecaps are the reigning 2023 Canadian Championship winners, while Tigres UANL are the reigning Campeon de Campeones champions, the cup trophy contested between the Apetura and Clasura winner of last year.
It is a toss-up between who is the more likely opponent for Tommy Wheeldon Jr’s side if they reach the Round of 16, but according to an interview with the Calgary Sun, Mr. Wheeldon Jr. himself might prefer to face the Mexican side than the side he already beat with Cavalry back in 2019 in the Canadian Championship.
Quarter-Final & Semi-Final
If Cavalry make it past these two fearsome opponents, they’ll have a guaranteed MLS side to face in the quarter-finals as their next competitior would be one of Columbus Crew, Houston Dynamo or St. Louis City SC. It will be either Houston Dynamo, the reigning U.S. Open Cup champion, or St. Louis City, who finished first in the Western Conference in their expansion season, who face Columbus Crew in the quarter-finals.
Columbus Crew, who finished third in the Supporters’ Shield, are the newly-crowned MLS Cup champions after beating LAFC 2-1 in the final this past weekend, and thus are arguable the toughest draw of the three…and they also happen to feature a former Cavalry player. However, both Houston and St. Louis have shown that they can tussle with the best of them throughout the season, and would be toilsome foes for Cavalry in the quarters.
If Cavalry manage to defy all odds and make it to the semi-finals of the Champions Cup, then Christmas may come early as they could potentially host Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami at ATCO field come late spring. Other potential opponents include Supporters’ Shield champion FC Cincinnati, Liga MX’s Apetura runners-up CF Monterrey, and Hany Mukhtar’s Nashville SC. Nevertheless, whether it be facing the Greatest of All Time or Walker Zimmerman, the challenge will be ruthless for Cavalry FC to get the Champions Cup final.
Continental Experience Is Key
Regardless of how far either Forge FC or Cavalry FC make it in this year’s revamped continental competition, for the CPL to have two teams in the mix and have them be able to face some of the continent’s very best teams is invaluable for such a young league.
Whether it be against giants like Tigres or Club America, or MLS sides like Orlando and Philadelphia, or even dark horses like Alajuelense or CAI, these games will only bring more experience, attention, and prestige to Canada’s fledgling domestic league. Not to mention it also brings the potential for some memorable and historic nights under Canadian lights…and a big prize pool, too.