Having conquered the best on offer from the Canadian Premier League at The Island Games, Forge will turn its attention to international conquests when it plays Club Deportivo Municipal Limeño of El Salvador in the preliminary round of the 2020 Concacaf League.
Thursday’s match is a winner-take-all affair and will see one team advance to the round of 16, unlike the preliminary round of last year’s Concacaf League when Forge bested Guatemalan side Antigua FC over two legs.
While Forge last saw action in the CPL Final on Sept. 19, Municipal Limeño recently kicked off its domestic season and has played two games this month: A 2-1 loss to Club Deportivo Águila on Oct. 10, and a 0-0 draw with Club Deportivo Luis Ángel Firpo on Oct. 17.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The winner of Thursday’s game advances to the round of 16 (also one match) where they will play FC Tauro in Panama in a winner-take-all contest on Nov. 3.
Beyond that, it’s important to remember that qualification for the 2021 Concacaf Champions League is also at stake.
The winner of the Concacaf League, which features 22 teams from across North and Central America and the Caribbean, as well as the next five top-ranked clubs will qualify for next year’s Concacaf Champions League. Therefore, Forge would have a chance of advancing to the 2021 Champions League if they reach the quarter-finals of the Concacaf League — if they reach the semifinals, they would qualify for the Champions League.
If Forge beats Municipal Limeño and FC Tauro, their potential quarter-final opponents are: Waterhouse F.C. (Jamaica), Verdes FC (Belize) and Arcahaie FC (Haiti). Forge wouldn’t have to face Costa Rican powerhouse Deportivo Saprissa (the reigning Concacaf League champions) until the semifinals, so the CPL Champions have a clear path towards qualifying for the 2021 Champions League.
Unlike the preliminary and round of 16, the quarter-finals, semifinals and finals are two-legged, home-and-away affairs.
The danger man for the Salvadorians: Municipal Limeño finished third in the 2019 Apertura domestic season, losing to Santa Tecla in the quarter-finals. The club missed qualifying for the Clausura playoffs by one spot in the league table, as Edwin ‘Inter’ Sanchez bagged five goals, finishing in a tie for second in the goal-scoring race. Fellow Salvadorans Harold Alas and Walter Guevara are also key players to Municipal Limeño, who recently lost one of their best players in Clayvin Zúniga: The Honduran left the club and signed with a team in India.
Municipal Limeño scouting report: According to Salvadoran sports journalist Raúl Recinos, the team’s tactical system depends on their opponent. “Coach Misael Alfaro likes more of an approach with four defenders, five midfielders and a single striker. Clayvin played more as a winger, but was very accurate with his shots on target,” Recinos told CanPL.ca. (Alfaro) recently signed Colombian Jeison Quiñónez, who he is not very fast, but he is supportive of his teammates in attack.” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotisexpects a physical contest: “They’re a very physical team, a lot of fouls in their games. They try to make things into a battle.”
Forge injury report: Forge will be without defender Klaidi Cela for this game, as the defender suffered torn knee ligaments in last month’s CPL Final. Forge will also be missing Chris Nanco, who is dealing with an hamstring injury he picked up at The Island Games, and fellow forward Marcel Zajac (broken wrist suffered in training). Also, midfielder Kwame Awuah is suspended, Smyrniotis confirmed to CanPL.ca.
An empty stadium: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday’s match will be played behind closed doors with no fans in attendance. Also, the game will take place at the Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador, which is the largest stadium in the country and is the home ground of El Salvador’s national team. The game was moved from Municipal Limeño’s modest home ground, Estadio Jose Ramon Flores (in Santa Rosa de Lima, which is 170 kilometres away), because it did not meet Concacaf requirements.
Concacaf League experience: Although formed in 1949, Municipal Limeño will be making its debut into Concacaf competition this year. Forge, on the other hand, competed in the 2019 Concacaf League, when it beat Guatemala champions Antigua FC in the preliminary round 2-1 on aggregate. Forge upset Honduran giants Olimpia 1-0 at Tim Hortons Field in the first leg of their round of 16 series, before dropping a 4-1 decision in the return match in San Pedro Sula. Many of players from that Forge side are still with the team for this year’s run in the Concacaf League, including captain Kyle Bekker, starting goalkeeper Triston Henry and veteran defender David Edgar.
“It’s only gonna be a benefit for every player as an individual, the team, the club, and as a whole the league will succeed from us having success in this as well. When you’re a kid you want to play in these international competitions, so the fact that we have the opportunity to do it is fantastic.” – Forge captain Kyle Bekker
“The fact that the boys had the opportunity to do it last year will be massive for the group as a whole. They know what to expect, they know the grass, they know the fields.”– Forge defender David Edgar
“They pose threats in their own way… they’re very good defensively. Being in the national stadium [and on a good pitch] allows us to play on the front foot… But sometimes in these games there are banana peels, in a way, so you have to be careful.”– Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis