Forge FC is set to host Guatemalan outfit Antigua GFC on August 1 in the CONCACAF League preliminary round, having successfully earned the “Canada 2” berth in the competition ahead of Valour FC and FC Edmonton over the course of the Spring portion of the 2019 CPL season.
The Hamilton-based outfit will then travel to Guatemala on August 8 for the return leg of this home-and-away series. Here’s a scouting report on Antigua GFC, as well as Forge’s possible Round of 16 opponents:
The current champions of Guatemala, Antigua GFC goes into this tournament with plenty to prove against the newcomers from Canada. Having successfully captured the 2017-18 Guatemalan Liga Nacional Apertura title – posting a joint table-leading 38 points but edging Petapa on goal differential – Mauricio Tapia’s side went on to defeat CSD Municipal in the league’s playoff finals, also dispatching Coban Imperial along the way.
Los Panzas Verdes then finished fourth in the Clausura portion of the 2017-18 campaign, but failed to get past Xelaju MC in the quarterfinals.
The 2018-19 Apertura wasn’t quite as kind to Antigua GFC – the team finished sixth overall, barely qualifying for the playoffs, and was ousted by Comunicaciones in the quarterfinal stage. But Antigua GFC turned it around for the Clausura, topping the table with 41 points and winning the playoff final on May 26 against Malacateco 2-0 on aggregate.
So, Antigua GFC is no stranger to surviving the obstacles and tribulations of two-legged knockout series, and is a powerhouse in Guatemalan football. An overall fourth-placed finish in the combined table and a Clausura title for the 2018-19 season put Tapia’s side into the CONCACAF League preliminary round alongside Comunicaciones, with Guastatoya, the first overall in the combined table, booking a spot in the Round of 16.
That’s how they got here. But who got ’em there?
The team’s top player is Mexican striker Agustin Herrera, who is also the league’s top scorer, with 12 goals in the Apertura. Other notable talents include Colombian midfielder Roberto Pena and Guatemalan internationals Fredy Thompson, Alejandro Galindo, and Jose Carlos Castillo. Thompson, in particular, brings plenty of experience, having earned 96 caps for Guatemala from 2001 to 2015.
Still, these players don’t have too much experience in CONCACAF competition, with Antigua GFC making one appearance in the Champions League in the group stages of 2016-17. Antigua GFC would have qualified for the 2018 CONCACAF League, but on October 26, 2016, FIFA suspended the National Football Federation of Guatemala for political interference, thus leaving Guatemalan outfits unable to participate in international competition. As such, Antigua, the 2017 Apertura champions, was replaced by Panamanian outfit Tauro.
They’re back in the mix now, though, and probably ready to showcase their skills against the region with a triumphant return. They now await Forge FC at the 9,000-seat Estadio Pensativo for the second of two legs in this matchup on August 8. A home fixture on Aug. 1 at Tim Hortons Field will certainly be a first for this side – and if Forge emerges triumphant, a trip to Honduras is then on the cards.
CD Olimpia – Round of 16
You’d be correct if your ears perked up at the mention of the name CD Olimpia – they are a regular competitor in the CONCACAF Champions League, having taken on teams like the New York Red Bulls, Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders, and, most recently, drawn against D.C. United from MLS in recent years. Olimpia, winners of the 2017 CONCACAF League, hasn’t had too much success in the competition, though, losing to the Red Bulls in 2018, failing to escape the group stage against Pachuca and Police United (Belize) in 2016-17 or in 2015-16 against the Caps and the Sounders.
While Olimpia may look to be an intimidating team on paper, and are certainly more experienced than Antigua at this stage, so Forge can take solace in the knowledge that the team’s backline isn’t exactly the most steady. In fact, one of Olimpia’s defenders, Axel Gomez, was recently involved in a 12-0 loss to Norway in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, and was also red-carded in that match. Yes, you read that right. Twelve.
But, one 18-year-old defender does not define a team (not usually, anyway) and there is still plenty of quality across the pitch in Manuel Keosseian’s side, including former Whitecaps man Deybi Flores, one of many Honduran internationals. Defender and captain Ever Alvarado is one such talent, alongside Johnny Palacios, English Premier League mainstay Wilson Palacios, and Jerry Bengston.
Should Forge manage to defeat Olimpia, here’s how the rest of the draw looks: