MATCH ANALYSIS: Forge FC humbled at home by Chivas Guadalajara in Concacaf Champions Cup

Final Score: Forge FC 1-3 C.D. Guadalajara
Goalscorers: Campbell 31′; Cowell 26′,62′ Marín 45+2′
2024 Concacaf Champions Cup
Round 1 – Leg 1

Match in a minute or less

Forge FC were dealt a tough lesson by Chivas Guadalajara on Wednesday night in front of an electric crowd of 11,513 at Tim Hortons Field.

The visitors opened the scoring 26 minutes into the match when Cade Cowell cut in behind the Forge backline and smashed a shot past Chris Kalongo. Forge did equalize five minutes later as Tristan Borges connected brilliantly with Terran Campbell to make the score 1-1.

But a goal from Ricardo Marín in first-half stoppage time proved to be a backbreaker for Forge. The visitors added a third goal in the 62nd minute, again through Cowell, to take a big 3-1 lead in the first round matchup.

Forge will now need to overturn a two-goal deficit, and three away goals, as they travel down to Estadio Akron for the second leg on Tuesday, February 13 (10:00 p.m. ET / 7:00 p.m. PT).

Three Observations

Forge have a big hill to climb after allowing three away goals, but can take pride in a brave home performance

Whatever the result on Wednesday means for Forge in this first-round Concacaf Champions Cup matchup, they can undoubtedly say they stayed true to their principles.

Forge went toe-to-toe with one of the giants of the region on Wednesday, looking to play aggressive attacking football whenever they could despite the visitor’s advantage in fitness and experience. For 45 minutes, they kept the match level before a backbreaking goal conceded in first-half stoppage time ultimately undid any momentum. Forge was carrying after quickly answering Chivas’ initial effort on the night.

“First and foremost the goal of the team was to go out there and play football, that is one thing we discussed over this month of preparation in making sure that we go and we stick with our identity,” said Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis after the match. “We know the challenge was big and a lot of it has to do with the physical components of it, so we wanted to be able to be good on the ball, control it, be brave, and I think when I just look at the game right now after the game I think we’ve done an excellent job there.”

After the match, Chivas coach Fernando Gago said he was impressed with the attacking identity Forge showed, and their bravery with the ball. Forge certainly had some bright moments during the match, not the least of which was their equalizing goal. Alessandro Hojabrpour played a brilliant ball out to the left flank to Borges, whose stunning cross behind the backline was turned home by Terran Campbell.

But Forge also showed their rust at times, particularly in defensive transitions, and as a result, find themselves with a mountain to climb at Estadio Akron next week. The 3-1 deficit, and the three away goals conceded, mean Forge need to score at least three goals, and win by two or more, in the second leg to advance.

Making matters trickier, C.D. Guadalajara have lost just once in their 15 home matches in the Concacaf Champions Cup. That game, a 2-1 loss to Toronto FC, still ended in celebrations for Chivas as the aggregate score of the 2018 final meant a penalty shootout, which they won. Forge, however, will relish the opportunity to play in the Estadio Akron, just as they were not phased by the boisterous contingent of visiting fans on Wednesday night.

“No, I love fans, the more the better,” said Smyrniotis. “I don’t care who they are screaming for. For sure, many people left here tonight who may have come here with ties back to Mexico and Chivas, cheering for them, that tomorrow will be cheering for Forge. That’s the goal you want from all these games.”

“Everyone who came here tonight, I believe, saw some entertaining football from both teams, because there wasn’t one team sitting back watching one team play, both were trying to be aggressors, and I think that’s a big thing that we take from this game, and hopefully the fans saw that as well.”

Forge’s mistakes cost them against clinical Chivas Guadalajara side

Wednesday’s match was always going to be a monumental task for Forge, but at times they made it harder than they needed to on themselves with some individual and collective errors that Chivas were all too ready to capitalize on.

Forge had mostly kept Chivas contained through the opening stages, but the visitors were quick to close down and capitalize on any undisciplined touch or pass.

In the 26th minute, Cade Cowell opened the scoring on a sequence which started with an under-hit pass from Béni Badibanga through the centre of the park that Fernando González easily intercepted. González was closed down by multiple Forge defenders, which created space in behind an uneven Forge line that allowed the Chivas midfielder to slip the ball through to Cowell, who slammed a shot into the roof of the net.

The US men’s national team forward played provider on the second goal, allowed to cut centrally far too easily. Forge’s backline then failed to pick up a pair of runners into their box and Ricardo Marin had a free header that beat Kalongo from point blank.

“The second goal is the tough one, because it is something that they work very well, something that we have seen a lot in video just a cut in and play into the back post with usually two runners,” said Smyrniotis. “It is not the first time we have seen it from Chivas. So that’s the frustrating thing.”

Playing more aggressively in an attempt to get themselves back into the match, Forge pressed high up the pitch in the 62nd minute, forcing Chivas to play a ball over the top. While Garven Metusala got to the ball first, his clearance went directly back into the path of González.

The Chivas midfielder wasted no time in switching the ball to the right flank into the onrushing Jesús Sánchez who was in acres of space. Once again, a run off the shoulder by Cowell undid the Forge backline as Sánchez played him into the box and he slotted home his second of the match.

The attacking quality of Chivas, and especially Cowell who made excellent runs throughout the match, was undoubtedly on display. But when Forge watches the match back as they prepare for the second leg they will undoubtedly feel they let themselves down defensively on a few costly occasions.

Forge youngsters deliver impressive performances on the big stage

Despite the loss, there were certainly some positive performances from a few of Forge’s continental debutants.

Playing just his fourth match with the club, and third start, Forge goalkeeper Chris Kalongo made four saves, two of them inside the box. The 22-year-old was also calm on the ball, despite immense Chivas pressure at times and showed his distribution abilities by completing 16 of his 23 attempted passes.

“He did a great job today for us,” said Smyrniotis. “He is a goalkeeper that brings a different set of skills when you look at him. First and foremost we are a team that likes to play with the ball and he’s very comfortable player with the ball at his feet, making excellent decisions. Made some good saves for us tonight and I think that gives him enough confidence to keep on going. Because that’s what you want from a goalkeeper sometimes who is thrown into the fire.”

Bobby Smyrniotis was also quick to compliment the play of 21-year-old Malik Owolabi-Belewu, who had a strong performance at left fullback. Tasked with going up against Cowell for most of the match, Owolabi-Belewu held his own, even loudly celebrating a brilliant last-ditch tackle to cut out a Cowell cross in the second half. He completed an impressive 50 of his 55 passes, and made three tackles and three interceptions.

Two other young Forge players saw Concacaf debuts as well, with 24-year-old Malcolm Duncan and 17-year-old Kevaughn Tavernier substituting into the match in the second half.

“The one thing I learned early on in my education as a coach from a big club like Ajax is sometimes Champions League rolls around and a player who has never played before is in the lineup and that’s one way to give guys their start and springboard them forward,” said Smyrniotis. Player of the Match

Cade Cowell, C.D. Guadalajara 

Cowell was electric in attack on the night, causing Forge problems from the opening whistle until his removal in the 67th minute. He scored his first goal for the club in the 26th minute, assisted on the winner just before half-time, and then added what could be a critical insurance goal in the 62nd. He also had four successful dribble attempts, showing off his blazing speed down the flank.

What’s next?

Forge now travel down to Zapopan, Mexico for the second leg of their round 1 tie against C.D. Guadalajara at Estadio Akron on Tuesday, February 13 where they will look to overturn their 3-1 deficit (10:00 p.m. ET / 7:00 p.m. PT).