The CPL Champions proved their mettle yet again on Thursday, when they dispatched Club Deportivo Municipal Limeño in San Salvador to advance in the Concacaf League. With Anthony Novak’s late goal snatching a 2-1 victory from a match that seemed destined for penalties, 10-men Forge showed all the resilience that’s brought them two straight league titles.
“This is a game we really wanted,” coach Bobby Smyrniotis said in the immediate aftermath.
“We also knew that it was a difficult situation for us; you come off of the high of winning a championship just over a month ago, and after that everything kind of settles down when you’re into an environment where you’re only training, no friendly matches, no real competitive spirit. Now you’ve got to come into what is your next most important game of the season.”
Certainly, they felt the effects of their month-long layoff; a few passes in the first half were uncharacteristically sloppy, and toward the end of the intensely humid San Salvador evening the fatigue began to show.
None of the challenges managed to best this Forge team, though. Kicking off what they hope will be a long campaign in the international competition, the Hamilton-based club didn’t even seem particularly fazed when Jonathan Grant was shown the door for a second yellow card in the 64th minute.
“This isn’t our first go around,” said Smyrniotis, recalling Forge’s 2019 Concacaf League run.
“We want to make a statement for our club and the culture. I think these games and these wins, especially winning down here, go a long way. This is our first win down in the Concacaf region away from home, so we’re happy to get that, and that’ll allow us to keep on building.”
The Forge coach indicated that, really, one of the most valuable things Forge leaned on in Thursday’s game was experience from the previous year’s encounters with Antigua GFC of Guatemala and Honduras’ CD Olimpia. They had a better grasp of how to play in Central America, and how to manage a tie.
Of course, arguably Forge’s best player against Municipal Limeño — Mo Babouli — wasn’t there for the 2019 run. He’s been on a constant trajectory of improvement since joining Forge for The Island Games, looking more effective in every game.
“Mo’s experienced some different places around the world, so I think he knows how to come into situations like this and be at his best, and he performed exactly what we asked of him,” Smyrniotis said.
“Before we got down here to El Salvador he’s been tops in training. Just his finishing, his movement, his movement off the ball, just being a little bit quicker with the way he plays.”
Smyrniotis was absolutely right when, prior to the match, he told CanPL.ca he was anticipating a physical contest with Municipal Limeño. The Salvadoran side was extremely aggressive in challenges, and the Forge players upped their own physicality to match.
Unfortunately, it was Forge who came out the worse for it, with Grant taking the red card, but players from both sides will be sore on Friday morning.
“It was exactly what we expected,” Smyrniotis admitted.
“It’s something that (Limeño) do good, they make games into a physical encounter. There were periods of the game where I thought we were very good on the ball, and sometimes we were a little too quick and the game got into transitions, that physical component. But it’s a much different level of physical play, playing in this region.”
So, with their dreams of continental success still very much alive, Forge will now head south, rather than back to their homes in the north. They’re going straight to Panama this weekend, where they’ll have about 10 days to prepare for their round of 16 tie with Tauro FC.
Smyrniotis wouldn’t give up much on their next foes, but he revealed that he’d already had some of his staff doing advanced scouting on the Panamanian club.
None of that information has made its way to him yet, though.
“I like to focus on the game at hand, I never like to look at any possibility after,” he said. “To be honest I don’t even know what our travel plans are tomorrow.”