Hamilton, Canada (Aug. 2, 2019) — The Forge FC CONCACAF League debut was a thriller. Thursday night saw the first ever Canadian Premier League participation in an international competition.
Forge took on Guatemalan champions Antigua GFC at Tim Horton’s Field. Hamilton produced a loud and excited crowd that gave the match a great atmosphere.
Making History in CONCACAF League
Even though CONCACAF League is a relatively new competition — which was first played in 2017 — Forge FC made history by being the competition’s first Canadian representative. Forge qualified via an internal competition against FC Edmonton and Valour FC.
The match kicked off early and Forge made their intent clear from the start. The home side attacked up the flanks through Tristan Borges and Emery Welshman, creating a few chances early on.
Antigua GFC pushed back hard though. Triston Henry needed to make a good save to keep things level. In the 33rd minute, the visitors got the go ahead goal. A scrambled clearance from a corner kick dropped to Edgar Pacheco, who made no mistake. The volley from 25 yards was well taken, though Henry perhaps could have saved it.
— Concacaf (@Concacaf) August 1, 2019
CONCACAF’s Dark Side
Fans familiar with the CONCACAF Champions League or CONCACAF World Cup qualifying may have been expecting what came next in the match. After Antigua took the lead the game immediately got more physical. The Forge FC players were visibly frustrated and head coach Bobby Smyrniotis received a yellow card from the fourth official just before the halftime whistle.
Speaking to the media after the game, Smyrniotis said that he always tells his players that if anyone gets in trouble with the referee, it should be him. Smyrniotis served a two-game touchline ban during the Spring season.
Forge came out of the tunnel for the second half on the front foot. Meanwhile, some good attacking play earned a corner kick. Forge captain Kyle Bekker whipped in the set piece right toward the visiting goalkeeper. However, it appeared to be a conscious choice throughout the match to put the ball right at Luis Moran in the Antigua net.
Bekker’s corner resulted in a mad scramble and Daniel Krutzen was on hand to head the ball into the net during the scrum. Forge FC were back in it and pushing for a second.
The Krutzen equalizer. Scrappy goal but they all count. https://t.co/I09UV4KoVy
— michael veenstra (@michaeldvee) August 1, 2019
Although Forge continued to push throughout the second half, the visiting defense was organized and resolute. The sides traded chances and the game seemed destined for a draw.
However, the final attacking push of the game, David Choinière put a deft touch on a nice pass from Kwame Awuah. He slotted the ball past Moran and securing the points for Forge FC.
Choiniere with the winner. Great goal, really well taken. https://t.co/nosgISMxdK
— michael veenstra (@michaeldvee) August 2, 2019
With the Choinière goal, Forge FC have continued a trend of getting good attacking support from their substitutes. Smyrniotis is spoiled for attacking choices, with Borges, Welshman, Marcel Zajac, Anthony Novak, Choinière and Kadell Thomas all excellent options.
Not Over Yet
Despite the result in the first leg, Antigua coach Roberto Montoya feels confident going into the second leg at home. Speaking to the media after the match, he emphasized that there are still 90 minutes to play. He felt his side had a good chance of taking care of business at home.
Trips to Central America have historically been difficult for Canadian and American sides, whether in the club game or at the international level. Loud, hostile crowds, pre-match shenanigans and the spectre of past results (Canada in Honduras comes to mind) have often been a factor.
Forge FC leave for Guatemala on Tuesday in preparation for the away leg. The aggregate goals rule means they will need to produce a good performance like they did on Thursday night. A win or scoring draw will earn Forge FC CONCACAF League play in the next round. Should the Hamilton side advance, they’d face a stiff test in Honduran outfit Olimpia.