Match Analysis: CD FAS 2-2 Forge FC (3-5 agg.) — Concacaf League

Final Score: CD FAS 2-2 Forge FC (3-5 on aggregate)
Goalscorers: Reyes (13′), Torres (56′); Navarro (50′), Grant (61′)
2021 Concacaf League
Preliminary Round (Leg 2)

Match in a minute or less

Forge FC are moving on to the round of 16 in the 2021 Concacaf League, having defeated Salvadoran club CD FAS 5-3 on aggregate after drawing 2-2 in Tuesday night’s second leg. An early goal for FAS — and a lengthy delay due to thunderstorms — put a lot of pressure of the CPL outfit, but goals by Joshua Navarro and Jonathan Grant (either side of a stunning free kick goal from FAS) were enough to secure Forge’s triumph in a challenging contest amid difficult conditions. They’ll move on in this competition to play Panamanian side Independiente in September.

Three Observations

Forge find their feet after weather delay

The Canadian side did not have the start they would’ve wanted, by any stretch. Though not necessarily pinned back in the first 15 minutes, conceding a goal early on was a real blow — especially given FAS would’ve needed just one more to win the tie.

After the sides came back out from the lengthy storm delay, though, Forge looked to have regrouped very well. Certainly, the style of play was different — the soggy pitch made sure it was slower, at least — but Forge also looked to have regained some control and composure. They seemed to learn how to deal with the surface more quickly than their opponents did, playing little chips past defenders or sliding the ball with slick backheels and turns — above all, Forge understood better than FAS that they could still knock the ball into space and use their pace to run onto it.

“You have to be prepared for different things,” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said in his postgame press conference.

“Obviously the weather is something that changes very quickly in this region, and we saw that tonight; it can’t be something that you mentally get turned off to. That was a period, we went down a goal, that stoppage comes, everyone calms down a little bit and we get out there in that final part of the 30 minutes, I thought we were excellent in the first half. That set us up for the second half and the football that we played. We love the result, we love that we’re going to the next round, but most importantly our guys step on the field today as an away team here on aggregate and played excellent football, we dominated phases of the game, created opportunities, so I’m thoroughly happy with my players.”

Forge finished the game with 60% possession, making exactly twice as many successful passes as their opponent (340 to 170). They also stole the ball 33 times to FAS’s eight, on a night where Forge just seemed a little hungrier and more dangerous for far longer stretches than the host side.

Navarro shines in forward role with Babouli out

Mo Babouli has been one of Forge’s most consistent attacking players this season, and he’s been magical in this very competition before (including last Thursday night). With news that he would miss out on Tuesday due to injury, Costa Rican winger Joshua Navarro slotted into the centre-forward role, and he was brilliant.

Navarro was key to both Forge goals — scoring the first and assisting the second, swapping places with Johnny Grant — and although he’s fairly new to the Forge setup, he definitely looked at home in the continental fixture.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked of him,” Smyrniotis said of the dynamic forward. “He’s scored the goal, he’s created opportunities, held the ball up well, and that’s just an excellent feature. We put him into a position he hadn’t played in before, and that’s always a good thing as a coach, now we know he’s capable of doing that at the highest level.”

Smyrniotis pointed out that it’s been a rough transition for Navarro into the side — he spent 14 days in hotel quarantine before joining the squad in training, and since then he’s been learning English on the fly. The coach revealed that Navarro and Elimane Cisse have, apparently, developed a good understanding, despite the former speaking almost exclusively Spanish, and the latter speaking French.

On the pitch in San Salvador, though, Navarro was definitely speaking the same footballing language as his teammates as he led the forward line.

Forge prove they belong in Concacaf

Really, they already did last year, but Tuesday’s contest was empirical evidence that this Forge team has grown into a very strong side in Concacaf League competition. They faced curveball after curveball in this match — in the whole tie, really, from the moment their home leg was moved — and they survived.

The early goal, the delay, the wet conditions, the intense physicality — none of it was enough to topple a Forge side that has, now, played 10 games in the Concacaf League (eight of them away from home). Their experience with all sorts of situations served them well in El Salvador; they did not get drawn into extra-curriculars, nor were they thrown off by gamesmanship.

Really, Forge were consummate professionals — although they played with the edge of a side that has clearly seen a lot.

“We talked about before the game, not to get caught up to much in how the game goes, knowing that our target was to score a goal,” Smyrniotis explained postmatch. “That’s what we wanted to do in the game and that shouldn’t change whatever happens. So that was the only point we gave to the guys once we had that break, we were still ahead with the plan, we still know what we need to do…

“It’s just being calm. Telling the guys to play in the manner that they know. These are games where you have to have that championship spirit, where you have to be able to understand, to tactically be involved and adjust to situations, and that’s one thing this team has done going back to 2019. And I say that because there’s a big group of these guys that have been together, so they know how to rise to the occasion.”

Seeing how well Forge handled a tie that could have gone wrong at so many junctures, there’s no telling how far they could go in this tournament. Last year, they advanced one step further by getting to the quarter-final. Can they make another leap this time? Player of the Match

Jonathan Grant, Forge FC

Neither Forge goal happens without Grant in this game. His quality was on full display along the right touchline, and played a tremendous role defensively to get the better of one of FAS’s best players — it seemed Grant was locked in a battle with Kevin Reyes all night, and though Reyes beat him for FAS’s first goal, Grant was all over him from then on, beating him going forward and shutting him down at the other end.

What’s next?

Forge will now fly home to Hamilton, where they will host CPL outfit HFX Wanderers FC at Tim Hortons Field in domestic play this Sunday (4 pm ET). In the Concacaf League, they’ll now move on to play Panamanian side Independiente, with the first leg on September 21. Watch all matches live on OneSoccer.