Forge FC Enters Champions League Play-In Match With Heads Held High
Whether they win or lose in Honduras tonight, Forge FC will finally be going home after some eighty days of continental action which involved a tough amount of travel, quarantine, and mental resolve – all of which took place after the club spent its entire domestic season in a bubble, too.
Last week, the club saw its impressive Concacaf League run end in the quarter-final stage against Arcahaie following a penalty shootout, though head coach Bobby Smyrniotis and his team still has a second chance to qualify for the Champions League tonight: Forge FC will compete against Honduran side CD Marathon in a high-stakes play-in match, with the winner earning entrance to the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.
The Forge boss was straightforward about the danger his Honduran opponent brings to the table, making it known that he’s well-aware of the capabilities of Marathon’s two top strikers and the crucial string-pulling of Allan Banegas in midfield. While he says the club puts forth a big group effort, he says his Hamilton-based team remain confident with their heads held high as they approach their final game of their season:
They’re a little bit different from what we’ve seen from other the teams that we’ve been with in Concacaf League. They’ve got a little bit more of a physical approach to the game. This is a good team that’s well past mid-season form, but we’re confident. We’ve been able to see a lot about them and what works for them, and like every team there’s opportunities on the field to take advantage of.Bobby Smyrniotis
That mid-season form now sees CD Marathon at the top of their group in domestic action, with the club seeing a healthy return of 26 points from 13 matches, with the Honduran side also scoring an impressive 23 goals while conceding only 8. Despite their impressive defensive record, Smyrniotis says he’s confident that his squad will threaten the goal: as he points out, their attacking record in the Concacaf League speaks for itself.
Of course, you always look at that and we’re very confident. One thing you notice is that we score every game. We’re going to keep that up tomorrow night. In our two years of existence we’ve done that in this competition in matches that we’ve played.Bobby Smyrniotis
Across the club’s two Concacaf League campaigns, Forge has netted a healthy return of nine goals in seven matches, and looked to be on its way to the semi-finals last week before one player error forced the game into penalties. Still, Smyrniotis says the club has done well to keep players match fit despite what can only be described as a very sporadic game schedule with plenty of travel and, truthfully, not much else.
It’s tough when you don’t have games week-in, week-out, that’s the bottom line. I don’t think in world history there’s been a team that’s played four games that are so meaningful in an eighty day span without games in between. I’d like to see if that exists, and if it doesn’t, than maybe we’re the first ones in the books for that and somebody else will be able to look at our recipe in the future.Bobby Smyrniotis
Despite the celebration of past efforts, Bobby recognizes that coming within touching distance of Champions League qualification means that there’s still much to play for tonight. Should the club qualify for the premier continental tournament, it’d make back-to-back Canadian Premier League champions an even more ideal destination for domestic talent.
With the side having won The Island Games this year, Forge FC has also guaranteed its return to Concacaf League action next season. It’s been the only Canadian Premier League club to feature in the competition, having beat out FC Edmonton and Valour FC in an interim qualification format for last year’s tournament and qualifying for its current campaign by winning the first-ever Canadian Premier League season.
The continental action has given the club’s roster plenty of additional experience, and that’s something that Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart said you can’t teach players as he hailed Forge FC as the standard bearers of the league.
I think it only allows our club to be stronger. The one thing we know is that we’re back in this competition next year with the Concacaf League. Being in the different countries, playing in the different stadiums, just moving around from one place to another, I think that gives you a comfort level to keep on doing this and keep on gaining the necessary mentality that you need to get through this. There’s a big book to be written on this whole journey.Bobby Smyrniotis
While Forge FC have spent the last eighty days putting forth an impressive Concacaf League run that now leaves them one match away from Champions League qualification, other CPL teams have been busy assembling rosters for next year’s domestic season: York9 FC has twenty players confirmed for 2021, while Pacific FC has seventeen, the Wanderers have twelve, and both Cavalry and Valour have ten on the books thus far.
When we asked if the club has been focusing on contract renewals and securing new talent – especially given that veteran defender David Edgar will be hanging up his boots after tonight’s match – Smyrniotis replied that the club is already ‘well on its way’ in regards to planning its 2021 roster.
Yeah of course, we’re dealing with both things at the same time. We’re competing and also looking at what next year looks like, but we’ve got time for that. We’ve got time to be able to put everything forward. I think the biggest focus in our club is doing what we’ve been doing here at the moment. We’re happy we didn’t stop playing in the middle of September. It’s still December right now, and we’re playing. As a player, that’s where you want to be at your club. We’re well on our way in our planning phase for the next year and I think all of what we’ve been doing in the Concacaf League and these games will take us into that next phase.Bobby Smyrniotis
That next phase will see Forge FC in at least three competitions next year: The 2021 Canadian Premier League, the 2021 Concacaf League, and a belated Voyageurs Cup Final against Toronto FC set to take place in the first quarter of the new year. With Smyrniotis having retained the bulk of his roster after the club’s inaugural campaign, one imagines he’ll want to repeat that feat ahead of the 2021 season, too.
All-told, it’s been another impressive continental outing for Forge FC: after dispatching both Municipal Limeno and Tauro FC to reach the quarter-finals, a moment of lost focus saw the club falter against Haitian side Arcahaie FC. With tonight’s play-in match representing one second chance to reach Champions League action as David Edgar closes out his playing career, it’ll be a fine match to watch for the more hardcore Canadian football fans.
Forge FC will face CD Marathon tonight in the capital of Honduras at 10:00PM EST. The match will be live on TSN5.
Header Image Photo Credit: Concacaf