HAMILTON – The curtain has been lifted.
Forge FC entered their CONCACAF League preliminary round first leg with Antigua GFC of Guatemala, a first CONCACAF match for a CPL side, with a few questions to answer.
“The first thing we said after the match was ‘Now we know who we’re playing’ in the next game,” head coach Bobby Smyrniotis said about his preparations for the first leg at Tim Hortons Field.
“Thursday’s game goes a long way in giving us a better scope of our opponent and now they understand what they need to do in the next one.”
Forge emerged victorious in that feeling-out match with an injury-time winner from David Choiniere, sinking the Guatlamean outfit 2-1 at Tim Hortons Field.
“We needed to win,” captain Kyle Bekker said of that home win. “We know how important that was, to give us any sort of advantage going south.”
Choiniere’s injury-time strike flipped their CONCACAF League preliminary tie on its side. A first-half goal from the visitors left Forge in danger of heading to their first continental away leg needing a goal, or two.
“Going into halftime, we weren’t scared, we weren’t upset,” Bekker said of conceding the early away goal.
“We needed to be a little better in the final third, a couple runs in to get them off-balance, I think we were playing in front of them.
“They have a little bit more experience… We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“Now we start preparing.”
Smyrniotis and the Forge front office were quick with those aforementioned preparations for Guatemala, performing a transfer switcheroo, of sorts, on Friday.
Forward Emery Welshman was recalled from his parent club, FC Cincinnati, and released to pursue opportunities internationally. Welshman played 82 minutes in the first leg.
That same morning, Forge brought in Canadian international David Edgar — a defensive option who has experience playing in notoriously difficult places in Central America with Canada’s mens and youth sides – an experience that could come into play Thursday in the second leg.
“We always play on the front foot away in the Canadian Premier League,” Smyrniotis began, addressing the away fixture.
“Playing in front of a packed stadium, for me, it’s what I look forward to.
“You go into it like any other game. The atmosphere can be whatever it is but if you’ve signed up to play this, that’s what we’re going to prepare for.”
While some of the unknowns of their opponent have been answered, the away leg in Guatemala is still the next hurdle.
“We are unknown to many people around the world and even in CONCACAF,” Smyrniotis said.
“Every step helps to show that this league is coming. There’s quality here, there’s quality players, quality facilities and we’re gonna come around and we want to compete.
“We don’t want to come into games and just be happy to be here. Every success we have as a league, not just individual teams, it helps our league all around.”