There will come a point in time during Forge’s adventures in CONCACAF where the story being written this year will end.
It’s the inevitability of playing in close-circuited tournaments such as this, where there is no guarantee of a return next year, and little chance of even experiencing things in anything resembling the same manner, even if the Hamiltonian outfit does find itself back in this very same spot in the years to come.
Whether Forge’s story ends prematurely at the hands of Olimpia in Leg 2 next Thursday – or much later down the line – remains to be seen; the happily ever after version ends, of course, with Bobby Smyrniotis’ side winning the CONCACAF League, then the CONCACAF Champions League – and, hey, maybe even the FIFA Club World Cup. Why not dream big dreams, right?
But, while the Honduran visitors on Thursday evening in Hamilton were marked as the better team on paper heading into this Round of 16 series, it’s Forge who now takes a precious 1-0 lead into the neutral, close-doored San Pedro Sula next week.
No away goals to worry about; no chance of losing in the case of a draw; and, most importantly, a slim one-goal advantage, which Forge will hope to preserve over the next 90 minutes.
“We’re creating a culture here with Forge in the city of Hamilton,” Smyrniotis told reporters after 90 minutes of football, as his team wrote yet another chapter in the Canadian Premier League’s history books with that 1-0 first-leg victory.
“It’s important for us to have these positive results.”
Among the many storylines Forge has helped co-author in this, the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural campaign, these journeys in CONCACAF are solely their own. As such, Smyrniotis’ team is experiencing something their peers across Canada aren’t – quite poetically, this team is being forged under the fire of intense, unparalleled matchups in CONCACAF.
But, the team’s culture stays true to the CPL’s Canada-first philosophy.
“The one thing I was thinking about earlier today as I looked at my lineup and who we’re putting out there, I said, ‘Hey, we’re starting seven players who, last year, were not pros.’
“Look how far we’ve come. Last year, we didn’t have a league; we weren’t playing in these competitions; the majority of these players weren’t playing at this level, and here we are now, in this Round of 16, and now we’ve got a great result here against a historic and great club. That’s the significance of where we’re going, not just here at Forge, but in Canadian soccer overall.”
Forging this culture has required Smyrniotis’ players to test themselves against teams like Olimpia and Antigua GFC before them. It has required Hamilton’s professional soccer team to “dig in a little bit deeper” than usual.
But, as Smyrniotis explains, the one thing his team is very happy to see is that his side got another historic result at Tim Hortons Field, and, as he puts it, “There’s nothing better than creating a culture with continental football, and today we did it with 10 Canadian players on the field.”