Despite our TV screens being dominated by this week’s diet of Champions League and Europa League football, you might want to deflect your attention away for a moment to focus on CanPL champions, Forge FC’s second attempt at continental football.
This evening they take on CD Municipal Limeno in San Salvador . You can see it live on TSN3 and online at TSN.ca from 8.00pm ET
It’s the preliminary round of the competition and tonight’s winners will advance to the round of 16, unlike last season when Forge bested Antigua FC of Guatemala over two legs. Awaiting in the round of 16 is Tauro, the club from Panama City which defeated FC Dallas over two legs in the CONCACAF Champions League as recently as 2018.
Forge has not played since the final of the Island Games just over a month ago, while their Salvadoran opponents have had two less than spectacular league outings, a 1-2 defeat and 0-0 draw against CD Aguila and CD Luis Angel Firpo respectively.
And in fact, Municipal Limeno have been fortunate to earn their first-ever crack at the CONCACAF League at all. It all came down to administrative change.
Initially El Salvador’s third spot went to Once Deportivo, leaders and declared champions of the 2019/20 Clausura when the pandemic brought football to a halt, but this was later revised to nominate the Apertura champions and two non-champion teams collecting most points over the 33 games completed in the Apertura and Clausura championships.
So Municipal Limeno joined Apertura champion club Alianza, and CD Fas, an opponent of Montreal Impact in Champions League action a few seasons ago.
Home advantage is somewhat negated this evening with the game being moved 170 km away from the Salvadoran city of Santa Rosa de Lima, where CD Municipal play, close to the Honduran border. With their own modest 5,000 capacity Estadio Jose Ramon Flores not meeting CONCACAF requirement, the game is taking place at one of central America’s largest arenas, the 32,000 Estadio Cuscatlan. The match is behind closed doors, there will be no hostile crowd to worry about for the Canadian visitors.
But that doesn’t mean hostility will be absent from the playing area. Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis expects a physical contest: “They’re a very physical team, a lot of fouls in their games. They try to make things into a battle.”
So keeping discipline will be important for a Forge side which has a realistic chance of progress. And it’s no longer the case that only Kyle Bekker and David Edgar has experience of playing in central America. Most of the squad participated in this tournament last year, in Guatemala and Honduras, so have come to know what to expect.
Said Edgar, “The fact that the boys had the opportunity to do it last year will be massive for the group as a whole. They know what to expect, they know the grass, they know the fields.”
Another factor will be weather conditions...
Bobby Smyrniotos again: “You’ve always got to look at external factors to the match, what the pitch conditions are, the weather. We’re looking at about 90 per cent humidity when we kick off (on Thursday), so that’s a factor that plays quite a big role in these games.”
Forge FC have lofty ambitions this season, targeting going at least one better than last season when eliminated in the round of 16. With an unprecedented six clubs advancing from this tournament into next season’s CONCACAF Champions League, a quarter-final berth may be enough to satisfy those ambitions. Certainly if they reach the semi-finals, their place in the Champions League is assured.
And the draw has been kind. They cannot meet Deportivo Saprissa, the top side in their half of the draw until the last four. But of course they must win tonight, then negotiate a tougher hurdle in Panama City before thoughts turn towards the semis, which like the quarter-finals, will be two-legged ties.
Another chapter is about to be written in the fledgling history of Canadian professional league soccer. Let’s hope Forge FC can embrace the opportunity and advance the reputation of the nation’s Premier League.
It’s a big ask and a significant responsibility and Canadian fans will be behind the men from Hamilton...