The 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup gets underway in February, and two Canadian Premier League teams will be going toe-to-toe with some of the top clubs in the region. CanPL.ca will be covering the tournament extensively, with in-depth guides on the CPL teams and their opponents, plus more on the whole tournament. For more of CanPL.ca’s coverage of the Concacaf Champions Cup, click here.
Location (league): Hamilton, Ont., Canada (Canadian Premier League)
Date founded: 2018 Appearances in CCC/CCL: 1
Best finish: Round of 16 (2022)
First opponent: Guadalajara
The second of two Canadian Premier League teams to qualify for the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup is Forge FC.
In the first round of this year’s competition, Forge have once again drawn Mexican competition in CD Guadalajara — also known as Chivas.
Having drawn Cruz Azul in their first Concacaf Champions Cup experience back in 2022, Forge will be looking for redemption this year, but it won’t be easy.
Officially unveiled as the Canadian Premier League’s sixth team in July 2018, Forge have quickly become the CPL’s most accomplished club. Winning league titles in 2019, 2020, 2022 and 2023, the Hamilton, Ont. club has made quick work filling their trophy cabinet.
Since the 2021 season, Forge have never finished lower than second in the league table, a true representation of their unparalleled strength in recent years.
In their inaugural season, Bobby Smyrniotis was introduced as the first ever Forge FC head coach and has kept his seat to date. His tenure leaves him tied only with Cavalry’s Tommy Wheeldon Jr. for the longest serving manager in Canada’s top division.
Just as impressively, the club’s current captain is Canadian midfielder Kyle Bekker, who was one of the Forge’s first two signings in 2018. Bekker is Forge’s first and only ever captain, earning the armband in April 2019.
How they qualified
The first ever Canadian Premier League club to play in the Concacaf Champions Cup, Forge made their tournament debut in 2022, losing in two legs against Mexican side Cruz Azul.
With hopes of returning to the tournament, Smyrniotis’ side finished second in the regular season this past year, one spot short of earning automatic qualification.
Forge claimed Concacaf Champions Cup qualification after defeating regular season champions Cavalry FC 2-1 in the CPL Final.
That said, they had technically qualified for Concacaf before the final even kicked off. When the matchup between Forge and Cavalry was set, the Hamilton club guaranteed its spot in the CCC because they’d finished second in the league table, which would give them a spot had Cavalry won both the regular season and playoffs.
At just 44 years old, Bobby Smyrniotis already has quite the track record as a coach on Canadian soil.
With four titles in five seasons since being introduced in October 2018, Smyrniotis has put his name on the radar of many throughout his time in the CPL. Some of his work has led to rumours around different managerial vacancies, including the Canadian men’s national team.
Prior to his CPL success, in his early days, Smyrniotis spent time as a coach for Olympiacos’ academy system in Greece. In 2005, he made his way back to Canada and co-founded Sigma FC in Mississauga, Ont., acting as head coach from 2005 to 2018.
Since joining the Canadian Premier League, Smyrniotis has managed 160 matches in all competitions, holding a record of 82-32-46 in that time. With the championship pedigree as well, there’s arguably no Canadian-born manager with Smyrniotis’ track record of success.
3 Key Players
Much of Forge’s squad is still intact from their last foray into continental competition. However, many will be facing the bright lights of Concacaf football for the first time and will be looking for a leader.
Who better to lead Forge into their Concacaf return than the man who has seen every twist and turn in the club’s entire history?
Coming off of the strongest offensive season (four goals, eight assists) in his illustrious CPL career to this point, the Oakville, Ont. native will hope to carry that form through these first two Champions Cup ties. As a key anchor in Forge’s midfield, Bekker is often the creative force that drives their attack.
Yet another player who has seen all there has been to see in the Canadian Premier League. Triston Henry joined Forge FC in 2019 and has stayed between the posts for them ever since.
While it would be easiest to point the league success Forge has had with him in the net, Henry has earned individual honours along the way with two CPL Golden Glove awards to his name.
Henry made 29 appearances for the Hammers in 2023, after making a career-high 30 the year previous season.
Another integral member of Forge’s forward play, David Choinière has had the most success in Concacaf competitions throughout his time in Hamilton.
The attacker was another piece of Forge’s setup in the 2022 Concacaf Champions Cup, scoring the first ever Champions Cup goal in club history. The goal came in the 26th minute of their 3-1 loss to Mexican side Cruz Azul, at the famed Estadio Azteca. The Canadian forward has five goals in 17 Concacaf appearances, and he’s also scored in two CPL Finals. Few players in Canada have shown up in big moments as consistently as Choinière.
The Québécois winger has been a member of Forge since their inaugural season, joining as a free agent in 2019 after his time with CF Montréal.
Forge are the Canadian Premier League’s most accomplished side and did not show any signs of slowing down last season.
After finishing second in the 2023 regular season behind fellow Champions Cup competitors, Cavalry FC, the Hamilton side ended up hosting the CPL Final after beating Cavalry in a qualifying semifinal to open the playoffs.
After the Final — against Cavalry again — made its way to extra time at 0-0, Forge came back from a 1-0 deficit with two inch-perfect strikes, including one glorious Olimpico courtesy of Tristan Borges, to win their fourth CPL championship, now named the North Star Cup.
Could anything else be the top moment of 2023 other than Tristan Borges’ Olimpico to win @ForgeFCHamilton the North Star Cup? 🏆
The club is spending pre-season in Querétaro, Mexico, possibly acclimatizing themselves to the Mexican weather for the second leg in Guadalajara. The squad is mostly unchanged from last year, especially with crucial midfielder Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson recently signing a new deal to return to Forge. The most significant departures so far are striker Woobens Pacius, who announced he’s leaving on social media, and CPL Defender of the Year nominee Manjrekar James, who was recently sold to another Champions Cup side in Alajuelense.
As mentioned, Forge have been spending two weeks of their pre-season in Mexico, a step they didn’t take in their build-up to Cruz Azul in 2022.
“We need to take advantage of the home game,” said Choinière. “It’s going to be freezing cold, we need to take advantage of the weather in Canada. I don’t think Mexican teams are used to that.”
There appears to be a real belief surrounding Forge FC entering these first two matches. Although they haven’t played a competitive match since their North Star Cup victory, the side has hardly stopped working.
The large majority of Forge’s squad is made up of returning players, so there should be no chemistry lost, and they’re all players who have won together before.
However, the pool of clubs means if Forge are able to get by Chivas — already a gargantuan task in itself — it doesn’t get any easier. Mexico’s Club América or Nicaraguan side Real Estelí would be up next on what is an obstacle-riddled road to the final.
First round schedule
Leg 1: Wednesday, Feb. 7
Forge FC vs. Guadalajara — Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton, Ont.
8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT
Leg 2: Tuesday, Feb. 13
Guadalajara vs. Forge FC — Estadio Akron, Zapopan, Mexico 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT
The 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup begins Feb. 6, 2024. Forge FC will take on C.D. Guadalajara (beginning Feb. 7), and Cavalry FC will play Orlando City SC (beginning Feb. 21). The matches will be available to watch in Canada on OneSoccer.