It was more than a month since Forge FC took to the pitch, but the daunting challenge of continental competition and playing in Central America after such a lengthy layoff didn’t faze the CPL Champions in the slightest.
Forge earned a dramatic 2-1 win over Salvadoran side Club Deportivo Municipal Limeño on Thursday in the preliminary round of the 2020 Concacaf League, the team’s first taste of action since beating HFX Wanderers FC in last month’s CPL Finals at The Island Games.
David Choinière and second-half substitute Anthony Novak were the goal-scoring heroes for Forge, who played the last 26 minutes of regulation with 10 men after defender Jonathan Grant was sent off. Novak scored the winner in the 83rd minute to seal the result for Forge in a game that was played behind closed doors at the Estadio Cuscatlán on a humid night in San Salvador.
It’s the first victory by a CPL team on foreign soil after Forge earned a draw and suffered a loss in their road games during the 2019 Concacaf League campaign.
Forge now advances to the round of 16 where it will play FC Tauro in Panama on Nov. 3. Should the CPL champs win that game, a home-and-away quarter-final series awaits them in early December against either Waterhouse F.C. (Jamaica), Verdes FC (Belize) or Arcahaie FC (Haiti).
Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis fielded a strong starting 11 on Thursday that included goalkeeper Triston Henry, veteran defender David Edgar, captain Kyle Bekker, and Belgian duo Daniel Krutzen and Paolo Sabak. Missing through injury for Forge were defender Klaidi Cela (knee), and forwards Chris Nanco (hamstring) and Marcel Zajac (wrist), while midfielder Kwame Awuah was suspended.
A fast-paced opening to the match saw Forge carry the bulk of play, but Municipal Limeño did well to contain the CPL champs with their fervent pressing game. Henry was called into action in the 20th minute when he rushed to make a brave stop on Municipal Limeño’s Harold Alas.
Forge immediately marched down the field and opened the scoring just moments later. Mo Babouli played a fabulous through ball from midfield for Choinière, who calmly rounded goalkeeper William Torres and fired home. The goal was Choinière’s team-leading third in Concacaf play dating back to last season.
Municipal Limeño immediately sprung to life, as Samuel Giménez nearly equalized with a cheeky free kick that whispered past the post after he caught Forge napping. The Salvadorians eventually equalized when Halas took advantage of some slack Forge defending inside the penalty area to lay the ball off to Kevin Oviedo, who beat Henry with a brilliant finish.
The CPL Champions nearly retook the lead early in the second half when Krutzen’s glancing header off a Bekker corner kick hit the crossbar. Shortly after, Henry made a big save on Municipal Limeño’s William Canales header off a corner kick as the home side swarmed Forge’s six-yard box.
After Babouli and Choinière fired their attempts on goal wide of the post, Forge was reduced to 10 men in the 64th minute when Grant picked up his second yellow card for an innocuous challenge on Municipal Limeño’s Luis Méndez.
Battling the heat and fatigue, Forge looked the more dangerous of the two sides in attack following Grant’s expulsion, and its persistence paid off in the 83rd minute. After Municipal Limeño failed to clear its lines, a long ball played into the box by Dominic Samuel found Novak who expertly controlled it between two defenders and hammered a gorgeous shot past Torres.
The winner of the 2020 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 qualifying for the 2021 Champions League if they advance to the quarter-finals of the Concacaf League — if they reach the semifinals, they would automatically qualify for the Champions League. The two legs of the 2020 Concacaf League finals are scheduled for January, 2001.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday’s match was played with no fans in attendance. Also, the game took 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. It 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.
Thursday marked Forge’s third victory in international competition, after earning wins over Guatemalan club Antigua GFC and Honduran giants Olimpia in the 2019 Concacaf League when it reached the round of 16. Although formed in 1949, Municipal Limeño made its Concacaf competition debut on Thursday.
While Forge had been idle since beating HFX Wanderers FC in the CPL Finals 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.
21’ – David Choinière (Forge FC)
38’ – Kevin Oviedo (Municipal Limeño)
84’ – Anthony Novak (Forge FC)
17’ – Yellow: Jonathan Grant (Forge FC)
63’ – Yellow: Mo Babouli (Forge FC)
64’ – Yellow: Jonathan Grant (Forge FC)
68’ – Harold Alas (Municipal Limeño)