The strange journey of 2020 continues for Forge FC.
Since returning from Panama last week after earning an historic win over Tauro FCin the Concacaf League, the players and staff have been forced to stay in their homes in Ontario, as they fulfill the government’s mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone travelling from abroad.
Thankfully for the reigning CPL champions, it’s a little easier to take by virtue of returning home with two Concacaf League victories in hand, and with another match on the horizon at the beginning of December. Still, after weeks of hard training for a pair of intense matches, the sudden halt has been another challenge for the club to overcome.
“It’s not easy for the players to go through a period where they’re away from home for 17 days, training, playing these two intense matches, and all of a sudden you’re back home and you’re sitting at home,” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis told CanPL.ca.
“All of that adrenaline comes down and then we’ve got to pick it up for what will be probably the most important game of the year for our club.”
While at home, Forge have their sights set firmly on their Dec. 1 Concacaf League quarter-final clash against Haitian outfit Arcahaie FC, for which they’ll have to travel south once more (the exact destination is undetermined). The opposing team will be in a better rhythm than Forge come matchday – the Haitians have played eight domestic league games in the past couple months and have a few more scheduled before they host the Canadian side.
With that in mind, Smyrniotis and his staff have given their players some marching orders for this brief period they’ll be spending back in Canada.
“We’ve got to be very good at focusing on ourselves over the next couple of weeks,” he said. “The guys have to do a good job of keeping themselves fit with the programs that we’ve given them while they’re at home. It’ll give us probably two weeks coming up to the match to get on the pitch and prepare.
“Every game is a challenge. We’re not playing at home, we don’t have a conventional run up to these games where we’re training every day, we’re playing matches where we have some match rhythm. This team is playing in their local competition, so they’ve got match rhythm…. The one thing that you can never do, not knowing a lot about a team, is take them lightly.”
Arcahaie’s victory over Jamaican club Waterhouse FC in the round of 16 was, like Forge’s win against Tauro FC in Panama, considered somewhat of an upset, with the Haitians making their Concacaf League debut and earning the first ever win in the competition for a side from their country. They didn’t have the history in the competition that, for instance, Tauro FC had.
Still, Smyrniotis cautioned heavily against underestimating Arcahaie, suggesting they probably weren’t the underdogs they were made out to be in that last game.
“A lot of people would say it’s an upset, but I think they were a more prepared team than Waterhouse at that point,” he explained. “Waterhouse was coming off of two weeks of actual training due to the lockdown in their country.”
Smyrniotis has been hard at work scouting the Haitians, trying to figure out how they might play based on somewhat limited information. As they’ve done for the previous two Concacaf League opponents, though, Forge have compiled a pretty detailed dossier on their next foe.
“It’s an energetic team, we’ve been able to see them play a few of their matches, they’re a team that brings a lot of energy to the field,” Smyrniotis said. “A lot of the stuff that we saw against Waterhouse was what we’ve seen also before in them, just guys that can buzz around the park. They can defend well as a unit, look for the counter quite well, and that’s something they did quite well in that game.”
Ultimately, there’s a massive prize at stake in this quarter-final. Not only does the winner advance to the semis, but they also qualify for next year’s Concacaf Champions League, the continent’s premier club tournament. That, according to Smyrniotis, is an incentive worth stressing over.
“Doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you want to be playing in your continental champions league,” he said. “It’s the biggest thing, whether you’re looking at it as a European club, as an Asian club, everyone plays to get into those competitions. It brings your club lightyears forward; we’ve seen what it’s done for us, especially in Concacaf, in the recognition, notoriety that Forge has now in the region, from the two years of playing, because we’ve played teams from different countries.”
So, Forge continues into November as confident as they’ve ever been. When provided an opportunity to make history, they want nothing better than to oblige.
“Winning two games away from home is a lot of confidence for the guys, and we start putting away that myth of it being so challenging to go into Central America and play games,” Smyrniotis said.
“There’s a price you pay for a little bit of success. That’s the thing we talk about to the guys, and sometimes we have to give that same speech, but if we keep on winning, that’s the same thing we’re gonna keep on talking about.”