Daniel Krutzen scored from the penalty spot deep into injury time as the CPL Champions earned a dramatic 2-1 win over Tauro FC in Panama on Tuesday night in the round of 16 of the Concacaf League.
With this historic win at Panama City’s Estadio Rommel Fernández Gutiérrez, Forge becomes the first Canadian Premier League team to advance to the quarter-finals of the Concacaf League.
The Hamilton-based club will play on the road in the quarter-finals (which is also only one leg) against either Waterhouse FC of Jamaica or Haiti’s Arcahaie FC. The winner of that game moves on to the final four and also qualifies for the 2021 Concacaf Champions League. Waterhouse hosts Arcahaie in the round of 16 on Thursday.
Forge made history last month with a 2-1 win away to Salvadoran side Club Deportivo Municipal Limeño in the preliminary round of the Concacaf League to become the first CPL outfit to earn a victory on foreign soil. The CPL Champions followed that up by upsetting Tauro FC, one of the best teams in Central America.
Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis made two line-up changes on Tuesday from the win in El Salvador, replacing suspended defender Jonathan Grant with Kwame Awuah (who missed the Municipal Limeño game through suspension) and swapping in midfielder Elimane Cissé for Paolo Sabak. Forge was without defender Klaidi Cela (knee), and forwards Marcel Zajac (wrist) and Gabriel Balbinotti (Achilles) due to injury.
Smyrniotis’ side asserted itself early in the contest with its high pressing game and by winning some key challenges in midfield, while attackers David Choinière and Kadell Thomas probed down the flanks.
Forge carved out early half-chances through Cissé and Thomas before breaking the deadlock via Mo Babouli. Forge midfielder Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson forced a turnover inside Tauro’s half, and Choinière scampered down the right side before getting to the end-line where he cut a pass back to Babouli who fired home from the edge of the six-yard box.
Forge’s advantage was short-lived. The Panamanians took advantage of the visitors’ high defensive line by playing a ball over the top, which veteran forward Edwin Aguilar latched onto before bustling into the box and blasting a shot past goalkeeper Triston Henry.
Tauro was in the ascendency, but it was Forge who came closest to scoring again, with Choinière firing an angled shot that forced a great save from Tauro goalkeeper Luis Hurtado, and Achinioti-Jönsson hitting the crossbar with a powerful header off a corner kick. Hurtrado picked up a leg injury late in the first half, and had to be replaced by 19-year-old backup Jorginho Frías.
Chris Nanco replaced Thomas at the start of the second half as Forge continued to pressure Tauro with dangerous runs down the wings. The Panamanians also caused problem for the Canadians after the re-start, mostly with dangerous crosses into the box from the left side.
Frías was called into action when he made a fabulous double-save off Nanco from inside the six-yard area to rob the Forge substitute of a goal. Meanwhile, Aguilar kept Forge’s defenders honest with his dynamic play up front as Tauro swarmed their opponents.
The game appeared to be headed to a penalty shootout with the score at 1-1, but then Frías brought down onrushing Forge substitute Anthony Novak inside the 18-yard box in the 89th minute. Krutzen calmly converted the penalty to seal a dramatic win for the CPL Champions.
The winner of the 2020 Concacaf League, which features 22 teams from across North and Central America and the Caribbean, as well as the other three semi-finalists will qualify for next year’s Concacaf Champions League. The format of the Concacaf League was recently changed, with two single “play-in” matches added featuring the losers of the quarter-finals. The winners of those two matches will also advance to the 2021 Concacaf Champions League. So, in essence, Forge has two shots at qualifying for the Champions League.
Tuesday marked Forge’s fourth victory in international competition, after earning home wins over Guatemalan club Antigua GFC and Honduran giants Olimpia in the 2019 Concacaf League when it reached the round of 16. Forge also beat Club Deportivo Municipal Limeño in El Salvador last month.
Tauro FC recently kicked off its domestic season and has played two games: a 1-1 draw with rivals C.D. Árabe Unido on Oct. 22, and a 2-2 draw vs. Alianza FC on Oct. 29.
This year marked Tauro’s third consecutive participation in the Concacaf League, with their best performance coming in 2018 when they reached the final four, losing to Honduran side FC Motagua in the semifinals. Last season, they fell to Salvadoran outfit Alianza FC in the round of 16. Tauro FC have also competed in the Concacaf Champions League, making six appearances in the region’s top club tournament.