Forge FC’s Champions League path is difficult but realistic vs. Marathón

It’s easy for Forge FC to feel down on their luck after a lacklustre loss to Arcahaie FC in he quarter-finals of the Concacaf League.

Outplaying their opponents in the Concacaf Quarterfinal wasn’t enough for Forge, as Forge lost via penalty shootout on Tuesday night and squandered the first of three chances to qualify for the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.

Arcahaie stood as the easiest opponent in a series of potential Champions League-clinching matches for Forge. Next up is a one-game “play-in” match against Club Deportivo Marathón of Honduras, where the winner will punch their ticket for the region’s premier club competition. Forge could also qualify for Champions League in the Canadian Championship Final vs. Toronto FC set to be played in the first quarter of 2021.

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While it’s easy for Forge to be frustrated by Tuesday’s result, and the opportunity now slipped away, coach Bobby Smyrniotis offered a pretty sobering reminder after the game: “We have no other choice; tomorrow, we’ll wake up and we’ll prepare to do it the next way that’s given to us.”

As covered on this week’s Virtual Newsroom, Forge just made their life much more difficult with Tuesday’s loss.

Arcahaie was the lowest-ranked opponent in Forge’s path to CCL qualification – behind previous opponents CD Municipal Limeño of El Salvador and Panama’s Tauro FC – and had entered their first continental foray in club history.

Kudos is due to the Haitian side who looked like they might knick a result from the first minute, sitting back upon their Canadian opponent in a low block, but Forge had their fair share of chances, too – Mo Babouli’s open header, Daniel Krutzen’s crossbar-rattling free-kick. Take those goalscoring opportunities into account and it only magnifies Forge’s best missed opportunity of qualifying for the Champions League.

Forge learned their of their play-in opponents early Wednesday morning when Costa Rican giants and reigning Concacaf League champions Saprissa took down CD Marathón 2-0.

Either opponent would be a tough proposition for any CPL team but, luckily for Forge, Marathón is coming into a crucial stretch of their Honduran league season.

Top of their league group (just ahead of CD Vida, where Cavalry FC’s Jose Escalante is currently on loan), the Honduran giant is set to play fellow heavyweight Olimpia in the final match of regular season play this weekend. It’s far from a throwaway match for Marathón, who would clinch a semifinal berth in Honduras’ Apertura campaign with a win.

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To advance past Marathón, Forge will need to outdo themselves for a third time in Concacaf League.

Forge made history with their Round of 16 triumph over Tauro FC – the biggest win ever for a CPL club against one of Central America’s top clubs. Before that, their win over Municipal Limeño was seen as a major success, being the first victory for a CPL team on foreign soil.

For Smyrniotis, this week should be focused on reminding his players what they’ve already accomplished, specifically against Tauro. Honduran clubs have made five semifinal appearances in Concacaf League’s three-year run, while Panama has placed four teams in the semis, including Tauro.

A combination of short and selective memory is required after matches like Tuesday’s setback, especially as Forge’s path becomes just that more difficult.

Tougher, but still possible. They’ve proven they can do it.