Forge FC’s Concacaf adventure is not over for 2020, nor are their hopes of qualifying for the Concacaf Champions League.
Still, Tuesday night’s gutting penalty shootout loss to Arcahaie FC in the quarter-finals did put a halt to their run through the Concacaf League, and it eliminated them from a shot at another trophy.
So, that quarter-final was an ending of sorts. Although it’s hard to swallow now, with the cruel defeat still raw, this is a good opportunity to look at the whole Concacaf League campaign so far in macro. Forge played three games, in three different countries, across a month and a half; they’ve been all over Central America, and they’ve truly made a name for themselves (and for the Canadian Premier League) on an international stage.
Forge accomplished something exceptional with their two victories, and could do likewise next week in their Champions League play-in game. For now, though, let’s look back at the moments that have defined each of the three hard-fought contests that took us to this point.
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1. Reacting to Grant’s red card
Not picking the Anthony Novak goal specifically, but rather, the circumstances that allowed for it against C.D. Municipal Limeño.
You see, when Forge fullback Johnny Grant earned a second yellow card in the 65th minute, Forge’s bright start to the preliminary round was in jeopardy. Forced to play with 10 men for half an hour in the brutal San Salvador humidity, coach Bobby Smyrniotis had a choice to make: back off the attack a little and play conservatively, or keep the foot on the gas and press forward.
For anyone that’s seen this Forge team play the past two years, it shouldn’t have been surprising to see them choose the latter when tied 1-1. Still, considering it was the first game they’d played in a month, against a team keen on making them feel it physically, it was a bit of a gamble from the CPL champs; they didn’t make any big defensive substitutions, nor did they choose to sit back.
Regardless, it worked. Actually, Forge probably looked better in the late stages of the game, making some excellent attacks into space (thanks in large part to a brilliant Mo Babouli performance). Finally, it all culminated in a moment of magic from Novak.
The striker, on the field as a sub and thus a little more energetic than his counterparts, put himself in on goal with a pretty touch and fired it in to win it for Forge.
What could’ve been a huge blow to Forge’s attacking play ultimately wasn’t so bad, thanks to some sharp tactics and determined play from the 10 players still on the pitch.
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2. Krutzen’s PK at the death
This game felt destined to be decided from the penalty spot. Tied after 18 minutes, Forge and Tauro FC traded blows in their round of 16 showdown, but neither seemed able to break the deadlock in the second half.
Instead of five PKs apiece, though, we got just one: Daniel Krutzen’s game-winning penalty kick in stoppage time. Anthony Novak had a major role once again, with his pace and power just too much for the Tauro defence to handle; he was brought down by the goalkeeper while chasing down the ball, and the referee pointed straight to the spot.
Scoring a penalty is no foregone conclusion, of course; the Belgian centre-back, chosen as Forge’s penalty taker for the day, stepped up for the biggest spot kick in the club’s history so far. Keeping a cool head, Krutzen walked up and smashed it to the left.
“As soon as you start thinking that’s when you get in trouble,” Krutzen said of the moment. “The key for me was to just step up, put the ball down, pick a corner and go for it.”
It might’ve been the most important goal in club history and it sealed arguably the most impressive win Forge have ever produced. This game was a pretty even affair for all 90-plus minutes, without any major momentum shifts; thankfully, it was Forge who pulled out a moment that can separate two good teams in a close contest.
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3. Momentum halted in Santo Domingo
Not every moment on this run has been heroic, nor have they all gone in Forge’s favour.
Sadly, Tuesday night’s quarter-final against Arcahaie FC saw Forge stopped in their tracks on their quest to win the tournament, as the bounces didn’t seem to break their way for much of the night. There’s no singular reason for the defeat, of course, but one 5-10 minute stretch in the second half did seem to take some of the wind out of Forge’s sails a little.
The Canadians were dominating, having taken a 1-0 lead just before halftime; Arcahaie were doing all they could to throw Forge off their rhythm with fouls and defensive tactics, but the side in orange were very much in control.
Everything flipped on its head around the 59th minute, though, as a fluke and a cruel twist of fate put the game back to square one. Arcahaie’s luck turned enough to grant them an equalizing goal off an unfortunate goalkeeping error by Forge, leaving the visitors shell-shocked.
And then, immediately after, the confusion mounted; instead of restarting the game and giving Forge a chance to put the mistake behind them quickly, the referee spotted an issue with Arcahaie’s net. The five minutes it took for officials to repair the mesh with zip-ties threw a further wrench into Forge’s momentum, and although a quick break might’ve been welcome, they probably would’ve preferred to strike back as quickly as possible.
Looking back at the game, it was that whole stretch that brought everything back to Earth; spirits were high at halftime (for fans, at least), but this was a bucket of cold water. Not ten minutes prior, Forge looked sure to march comfortably forward and win, but suddenly
Sadly, Forge didn’t manage to reclaim their lead in the last half hour (despite several agonizingly close chances). Again, this moment isn’t the reason they lost to Arcahaie; those few minutes, though (not just the goal, but the whole emotional break) definitely feel like a turning point.