Smyrniotis gearing up for Forge’s Concacaf League run, sizes up first-round opponent

Forge FC are just four days removed from winning a championship and they’re already looking ahead to the next challenge.

Coach Bobby Smyrniotis has had little time to rest on his laurels after Saturday’s Island Games Final victory before turning his focus to Forge’s upcoming Concacaf League run. They learned their path on Monday — first up is a trip to El Salvador to play Municipal Limeño.

Smyrniotis has already begun planning for the competition he’s long touted as hugely important for the club, and he gave his reaction to the draw for this year’s tournament (which they’ll enter by virtue of winning the 2019 CPL championship).

“There’s a lot of unknown in (Limeño), they’re not a team that you know a lot about,” Smyrniotis admitted.

“We’ve only just started getting into the little things on where the team is, what the stadium looks like. And we’ll see whether we’ll be playing at their home stadium or whether it’ll be moved, just based on the standards of the field and stadium — the same way it was done last year with Antigua — because stadiums need lights in Concacaf League.

“We’ll slowly start putting together the portfolio on them, and that’s something that myself and the staff are working on this week as we’re sitting at home away from the pitch, so that way we’ll start getting a good idea of who they are.”

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While he and his fellow coaches toil away trying to figure out who this Salvadoran team actually is (other than a club with an outstanding crest), Smyrniotis has given his title-winning squad a brief reprieve to spend time with family after a difficult six-week stint in PEI.

Soon, though, it’ll be full steam ahead as they prepare to travel for their clash with Limeño next month.

“We’ve given the guys a week off just to decompress, spend time with their loved ones, take it easy and relax,” Smyrniotis said. “We’ll be back to the pitch on Monday, which gives us about three and a half weeks to prepare for Concacaf League.”

The training is likely to be fairly intense, although it’s important to Forge that they return to (mostly) full health after The Island Games. They had a number of injuries at the end of it all, with several players — Elimane Cissé, Anthony Novak, and Chris Nanco included, among others — dealing with knocks of varying severity.

It sounds like Smyrniotis expects them all back for the Concacaf League run, though, with Nanco likely to return to full training a few days into next week.

Unlike in 2019, Forge will have the strange luxury of being able to focus solely on the Concacaf League, with no CPL games interfering.

“Last year was definitely a challenge, we look at how we went into the second series with Olimpia and we were on a long stretch of matches,” Smyrniotis recalled.

“I remember playing, I believe it was home on a Tuesday against Olimpia, home against Cavalry on Saturday, which was an important game on the schedule, and then you’re immediately flying down to Honduras to play what was your most important game of the year.”

Forge came through it fairly well, winning both the first leg at home against Olimpia — a notoriously tough opponent in all Concacaf competitions — as well as the game against the Cavs, before running out of steam down in San Pedro Sula in the second leg. They also managed to take a point from Pacific the following weekend, despite a lingering stomach flu bug from the trip to Honduras.

It’ll be, hopefully, a little less taxing this time.

“This gives us a little bit more focus on the game, gives us some time to prepare and make sure the guys are healthy, and we’ll be going into it as strong as possible,” Smyrniotis said.

“Obviously over this next period, our training plan has to be very good, and also our ability to get in a few friendly matches with some local competition.”

The work is by no means done in 2020 for the CPL champions, then. Look for them to be front-of-mind in CPL circles quite frequently in the months to come.

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