Tuesday night’s Concacaf League quarter-final is probably the biggest game in Forge FC’s club history. That might have been true of the previous round as well, but Forge cleared that hurdle and now approach another.
The thing is, though, it’s true for the other side as well. Haitian outfit Arcahaie FC will play just their second ever Concacaf League game, having won their first last month over Jamaican side Waterhouse. They, like Forge, are now on the cusp of qualifying for the Concacaf Champions League for the first time — one of these two sides is guaranteed to be there.
That’s an element that Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis is quick to point out ahead of the clash in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
“We know who the opponent is in front of us, and I think the most important thing is we know this could be a historic moment for Forge, the CPL, and Canada Soccer, but we always have to remember it’s the same thing on the other side of the ball with our opponent,” he told CanPL.ca on Monday. “For them, this is the biggest game they’re ever gonna play in their club history, and they’re looking to do the same thing there.”
BROADCAST ALERT: Forge FC vs. Arcahaie FC, Tuesday Dec. 1 at 7:50 pm ET on TSN2 & TSN.ca
It’s difficult to tell what exactly Forge might encounter against Arcahaie, who have 13 league games under their belts since September. As always, though, Forge has managed to find enough film for a decent scouting report. According to Smyrniotis, they offer a mix of the elements Forge saw from previous opponents CD Municipal Limeño and Tauro FC.
“They’re a very energetic team, a very fit team that puts a lot of energy into the game both on the defensive and the offensive side of the ball, and a little bit unpredictable in the way they go about things, especially in the attack,” Smyrniotis said.
For just over a week, Smyrniotis and the rest of his Forge players and staff have been headquartered in Punta Cana (not an unfamiliar locale to year-one CPLers). Although the setting is cause for envy in anyone caught in the snowstorm that descended upon Hamilton a day after Forge departed, this trip has not been a vacation.
Smyrniotis explained that the location was specifically chosen for having a training pitch right next to the hotel, allowing them to train twice a day on several occasions. They were able to practice on a grass playing surface, which should be another advantage ahead of Tuesday — apparently the previous field conditions in El Salvador and Panama forced them to adjust on the fly, with much of their preparations done on turf.
All these details have been critical for Forge, who have been working to return to match fitness after their 14-day quarantine back in Canada, with the most recent match almost exactly a month ago. Since their pre-departure training sessions last week in Hamilton, though, Smyrniotis has liked what he’s seen from his players.
BROADCAST ALERT: Forge FC defender and CanMNT veteran David Edgar announces his retirement
“We saw that the energy, the desire is there for the guys, so they kept themselves going at a good level,” he said. “Since we’ve been down here in the Dominican, to be honest it’s been one of our best weeks of training that we’ve had all year.”
It’ll help that, for the most part, Forge has a clean bill of health; Marcel Zajac’s wrist injury has healed, as has the knock that plagued Gabriel Balbinotti last month. Smyrniotis suggested a couple players may have minor issues, but he still expects to pick from a full squad on Tuesday (minus Klaidi Cela, whose injury is long-term).
Fitness and preparation will, according to Smyrniotis, be crucial in this contest against Arcahaie. In both of the last two Concacaf League games, Forge has managed to get on the scoreboard in the first 20-odd minutes. With heat and humidity expected to be a factor again in Santo Domingo, the Canadian side will need to put their stamp on things early — although, of course, they always do.
“You look at 2019 as a team, we created a lot of chances in the first 10-15 minutes. We didn’t turn a lot of those chances into goals in that year, but it’s something we always talk about, being able to step on the front foot, dictate some of the play and create chances,” Smyrniotis said.
“We want to go out there and try and assert ourselves from the beginning.”
With so much at stake for both sides on Tuesday, whoever bursts out of the gates and sets the tone of the match could well be headed for the Concacaf Champions League.