Forge FC kicked off their 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup campaign on Wednesday night at Tim Hortons Field in front of 11,513 fans, but it was Mexican giants Chivas Guadalajara who took an early advantage in the first round tie. Though Forge impressed going toe-to-toe with one of the biggest clubs in North America, Chivas ultimately proved too dangerous as standout performances from Cade Cowell and Fernando Beltrán in particular led them to a 3-1 win in the first leg.
An early blow struck Forge just under 10 minutes into the match, when winger Kwasi Poku pulled up in the midst of a footrace with what appeared to be an injured hamstring. Bobby Smyrniotis had no choice but to turn immediately to his bench, bringing on Tristan Borges to replace him.
The Canadian side worked hard containing their Mexican foes for much of the first half, though Chivas controlled the ball and continued to probe at the Forge defence. After about 25 minutes, though, as Forge attempted to relieve pressure through the middle, a Béni Badibanga pass through midfield got picked off and the Mexicans surged forward quickly. Fernando González flicked a clever ball in behind to the feet of Cade Cowell for a well-taken finish from high in the box to make it 1-0.
Not to be outdone, though, Forge picked themselves up quickly. Playing the ball out of the back, they invited Chivas’ pressure on their right side and sprung Alessandro Hojabrpour, who outran his marker and sprayed it out wide to Borges. The substitute winger took the ball in stride and curled a gorgeous cross around the back of the Guadalajara centre-backs to where Terran Campbell — staying onside with a well-timed run — was available to score off the volley.
However, just on the edge of halftime the visitors took the wind back out of Forge’s sails. Cowell took the ball down on the right flank and sailed it into the box, where Ricardo Marín found space and leapt to head the ball down and in by the near post, sending Chivas into halftime up 2-1.
Chivas sunk another dagger into Forge’s hopes of a first-leg result shortly after the hour mark, when a turnover in midfield led to a quick ball out into space on the right side. Cowell again drove into the box and slotted his finish coolly into the net for his second of the night.
Trailing by two, Forge emptied their bench in search of at least one more goal as the likes of Jordan Hamilton, Kevaughn Tavernier, Malcolm Duncan and Noah Jensen all entered the game to provide some energy.
The night, however, belonged to Chivas, who capably repelled Forge’s attacks for the rest of the match, despite a few dangerous forays into the visitors’ penalty area.
So, the two sides will now head to Guadalajara for the second leg, where Forge will have to climb the mountain of a two-goal deficit to keep their Champions Cup dreams alive. The return fixture at Estadio Akron kicks off Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 10 p.m. ET.
Forge: Kalongo, Samuel (Duncan 72′), Metusala, Achinioti-Jönsson, Owolabi-Belewu, Hojabrpour, Bekker, Badibanga (Tavernier 72′), Choinière (Jensen 76′), Campbell (Hamilton 72′), Poku (Borges 11′)
Guadalajara: Whalley, Briseño, Sanchez, Castillo, Sepulveda, Chavez (García 88′), Beltrán (Padilla 67′), F. González, Torres, Cowell (Brizuela 67′), Marín (A. González 60′)
26′ — Cade Cowell (Guadalajara)
32′ — Terran Campbell (Forge FC)
45+1′ — Ricardo Marín (Guadalajara)
62′ — Cade Cowell (Guadalajara)
56′ — Yellow: Jésus Sánchez (Guadalajara)
82′ — Yellow: Kevaughn Tavernier (Forge FC)