HAMILTON – Forge FC created another magical midweek night at Tim Hortons Field on Thursday.
In the first leg of their CONCACAF League Round of 16 series against Honduran side CD Olimpia, Forge struck first and saw out the pressure from the visitors to earn a 1-0 advantage heading into leg two next week.
It took just four minutes for Bobby Smyrniotis’ side to find the back of the net and send the home fans into raptures when Chris Nanco slid his shot past the Olimpia keeper. Never a bad way to start a match.
“I thought it was very good,” smiled the coach post-match. “It’s indicative of what we’ve done all season. We’ve been very good in the beginning of the matches. Sometimes we’re getting that goal, but we’re creating opportunities, so it’s one thing we wanted to do in this game.
“We knew it was important to step forward. Looking at our last series with Antigua (GFC), we didn’t come out as quick and as energetic, so that’s one thing we wanted to change for tonight, really get on the front foot and put pressure on the opponent.”
It was a “breath of fresh air” for the goal-scorer Nanco.
“To score one that early, it really gets the guys going. If you can pull one-off, it’s a massive weight off your shoulders.”
That it came from a lightning-quick move was no surprise.
“There are certain things we saw in the game,” explained Smyrniotis. “We knew that there was opportunities in the transition. We may have to defend a little more, you’ve got to work, but that’s going to create opportunities.
“In the second half we had three good opportunities to score goals that come out of those quick counters.”
Guiliano Frano embodied that emphasis through the opening phase.
“We were on the front foot, starting with Frano,” praised David Edgar. “He was fantastic the first 10-15 minutes, winning those challenges and setting up the goal.”
Forge nearly made it two when Kyle Bekker struck the woodwork, but gradually the momentum shifted.
“They woke up after that goal. I don’t think they were expecting it,” said Nanco. “We found ourselves on the back foot after that, defending.
We stuck through it, figured some stuff out at half-time, and played a good game.”
Added Edgar: “We stopped doing the things that we were doing, let them get back into the game. But we dealt with it.”
Olimpia looked sure to level in the 22nd minute when they were awarded a penalty kick. But Triston Henry, between the posts for Forge, would come up huge, denying Ever Alvarado from the spot. It was not just the penalty save where Henry excelled on the night.
“Triston was fantastic tonight. There is a lot of pressure from the game itself. They came and attacked, a lot of it was aerial stuff – that’s difficult to deal with, they’ve got some good players in the air,” observed Smyrniotis. “Fantastic on all the crosses; obviously, the penalty is taken care of. He handled his box very well tonight.
“It’s something we expect from him. Another great performance by him and it keeps on boosting his confidence.”
With the lead maintained, Forge were able to see out the remainder of the half and come the second, both sides had looks at goal, but neither could find the back of the net.
It was a night that demanded every ounce of attention and focus.
“When the guys had some success in the first half, it’s easier for them to dig in a little bit deeper and play,” said Smyrniotis of the commitment he saw in the second half. “We’re playing against a quality squad, and it’s going to be a tough (second) leg going forward, but the one thing we’re very happy about today is that we got another big result here in Hamilton.”
“Before the game, if you say 1-0, you take it and you run and you get ready for the next one,” continued the coach. “They had some good chances, but we also had some fantastic chances, with Bekker’s goal post and (Tristan) Borges’ chance in the second half.”
“They also had some very good opportunities – a penalty shot and four balls that go right through the six-yard box. At the end of the day, we’re very happy with 1-0 – it gives us good confidence going forward as we prepare for Sunday’s game (against Cavalry FC at home), and gets us in the right mindset for the second leg as well, going down to Honduras.”
When the final whistle blew, Edgar, newly-arrived at the club and making his first start, collapsed to the pitch.
“Thoroughly enjoyable,” smiled the veteran defender. “Good to get first 90 minutes, playing here at home – was just thinking, the first time I’ve played in front of my family that wasn’t for the National Team.
“It was a special moment. And to get the win, create another piece of history for this team is pretty special.”