PREVIEW: Forge FC vs. CD FAS (Leg 1) — Concacaf League

2021 Concacaf League — Preliminary Round
Forge FC vs. CD FAS
August 12, 2021 at 8 pm ET
Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador, El Salvador
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Forge FC are back on the international stage, and they’re looking to make some history.

This week, the reigning CPL champs are in El Salvador, preparing to go toe-to-toe with one of the country’s top clubs in CD Futbolistas Asociados Santanecos (commonly referred to as FAS) in the preliminary round of the 2021 Concacaf League — for which Forge qualified by virtue of winning the 2020 CPL title.

After advancing to the quarter-finals of this competition last year before falling to Haitian side Arcahaie (and then Marathón of Honduras in the Concacaf Champions League play-in game), Forge will be very hungry to take another step forward — especially after the heartbreaking way in which their journey ended last December. Last year, they advanced one round further than they did in 2019, with their round of 16 win over Panama’s Tauro FC taking them ever so close to the Champions League, so this time around they’re eager to jump that final hurdle and continue setting the bar for Canadian clubs in this region.

That said, it’ll be far from easy for Forge — which always seems to be the case. Although the 2021 tournament has reverted to a two-legged knockout format, after playing single elimination matches in 2020, Forge still won’t get a home game in this tie. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the first leg has been moved from its originally-scheduled date at Tim Hortons Field, and instead both games of this round will be played in San Salvador (with Forge being the “home” team for this first match).

Although the Canadian side are, in reality, on the road for both legs, the away goals rule is in effect for this tie — meaning that if the two sides are tied on aggregate goals after two games, whoever scored more in their designated “away” leg will advance. So, it’ll be vital that Forge’s defence remain tight on Thursday to avoid conceding a dreaded away goal. The winner of this preliminary round tie will move on to the round of 16, where Panamanian club Independiente await.

“It’s as important, if not more important than any games we play,” said Forge striker Mo Babouli in his pre-match media availability. “This is a different standard than just playing in Canada, and we always look forward to these games. It’s definitely a different experience for a lot of players, and obviously could help a lot of players move on to bigger and better things and use this as a platform to do so.”

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Forge, who sit fourth in the Canadian Premier League right now with a 6-0-5 record. The Concacaf League has always been a major priority for this club, though, so expect their absolute best on Thursday night in San Salvador.


  • Familiar territory for Forge: Although the Hammers would much rather be playing this game at home, there’s at least one silver lining: this tie in El Salvador will still be on somewhat familiar ground. Forge played (and defeated) CD Municipal Limeño at Estadio Cuscatlán — El Salvador’s national stadium — in the preliminary round of last year’s competition. Playing on the road in Central America is absolutely nothing new to this club, and they’ll be more confident in their ability to handle the conditions in San Salvador by virtue of experiencing them before. Head coach Bobby Smyrniotis affirmed as much a few weeks ago, when he pointed out that a little familiarity can go a long way in Concacaf: “So we’re going to go do it the difficult way, (but) it’s something that we know. It’s a stadium we played in last year against Limeño so at least it gives us that certainty of knowing where we’re going, we know where we’re staying hotel-wise, we know what the food is like, we know what the pitch is like and how it plays.” Forge trained at the Cuscatlán on Wednesday — Mo Babouli mentioned he’s hoping the pitch is watered before the game — but a hint of familiarity is not unwelcome. Winning this tie will by no means be easy, but Forge will have extra confidence knowing that they’ve been successful in this very place already. 
  • Bekker, Smyrniotis sidelined for Leg 1: Another wrinkle to make this first leg even trickier: Forge will be without head coach Bobby Smyrniotis and captain Kyle Bekker on Thursday. Both were sent off at the end of the club’s last Concacaf League game in December against CD Marathón — a frustrating contest that ended Forge’s hopes of Champions League qualification. As a result, assistant coach Kyriakos Selaidopoulos will take over sideline duties from the gaffer for this match. On the pitch, losing Bekker will be a blow to a side that’s already shorthanded, with recent Concacaf League hero Daniel Krutzen in particular missing the past few weeks, plus a handful of other key contributors dealing with knocks. Having played against Atlético Ottawa on Sunday, it’s a bit of a short turnaround for Forge considering the travel down to El Salvador, but these sorts of challenges are things they’ve certainly dealt with before. “Me and Coach Bobby we speak a lot, we’re gonna speak a lot tonight,” Selaidopoulos assured. “Tomorrow we are going to be on the same page, and I’m just going to go out there and coach the game with the plan that we’ve put in place. If there’s some changes we’ll do it for the rest of the team, but it’s just another game.”
  • Who are CD FAS? Forge are slated to take on the biggest and most successful club in El Salvador, who have 18 league titles to their name. They play in Santa Ana, about 60 kilometres from the capital, but they’ve moved to San Salvador for this tie. FAS won the Concacaf Champions’ Cup (the predecessor to the Champions League) in 1979. Last season, however, they did not advance past the preliminary round of the Concacaf League, getting upset on penalty kicks by Nicaraguan side Managua. Like Forge, the furthest FAS have advanced in this competition is the quarter-final (which they did in 2018, losing to Arabe Unido of Panama), but they have also participated in the Concacaf Champions League three times (in 2010, 2012, and 2014). Their campaign in the Salvadoran Primera División began a few weeks ago, and so far they have won two and and drawn one match. Last season, they were crowned champions of the league’s Clausura season, beating Alianza on penalties in the final. The FAS squad is composed primarily of El Salvador internationals including winger Dustin Corea (a former FC Edmonton player) who has 15 senior international caps. They’ve been led so far this year, though, by Colombian striker Luis Arturo Peralta, who has three goals from three games. “They’re playing away from home but it’s more home for them than it is for us,” said Selaidopoulos.


First meeting between these teams.