Mo Babouli shines for Forge FC in Concacaf win vs. Municipal Limeño

No one said trailblazing was easy

Forge FC’s first victory on the road in Concacaf League play was tiring, frustrating, and nervy, but they were full value for their 2-1 win over Club Deportivo Municipal Limeño on a humid Thursday night in San Salvador.

To understand the gravity of this result, you need to fully appreciated the circumstances in which the win was earned.

Forge reached the continental competition’s second stage in 2019, but failed to win on the road in Central America – a historically-daunting task. Then mix in that Forge hadn’t played in over a month beating HFX Wanderers FC in the CPL Finals, the humidity in the El Salvador capital, and going down to 10 men due to Johnny Grant’s red card in the second.

Anthony Novak’s thunderous 84th-minute strike sent Forge through to the round of 16, where they’ll play FC Tauro in Panama on Nov. 3. A slick through ball from Mo Babouli to David Choinière led to the opening goal – the winger’s third in Concacaf League play, including Forge’s 2019 campaign.

A Canadian Premier League side has won on the road in Concacaf for the first time, making a match in an otherwise barren part of the schedule just that much more important.

Babouli was a clear Man of the Match candidate despite failing to score. The 27-year-old – in just his 10th match for Forge – dominated Municipal Limeño’s defensive unit at times, slipping the ball between lines and evading tackles. Babouli’s hold-up presence late in the match kept possession deep in Municipal Limeño’s half and eventually led to Novak’s winner.

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“We knew we had to take care of the ball, be more patient,” Babouli said of the second half. “Just being patient, moving the ball more, less risky passes and dribbles was what worked for us.”

Babouli, like many in the Forge camp, entered into the unknown at Estadio Cuscatlán, relying on scattered footage of a team in a league they’ve never faced. That wasn’t lost on the former Toronto FC striker, who credited Municipal Limeño as a “very good, very respectful” side.

“We didn’t know what to expect, really,” Babouli admitted. “So we didn’t have much video on them and playing here was something very different for us, but obviously they’re a very good team.”

Forge coach Bobby Smyrnitois took some heat for signing Babouli before the 2020 CPL season in Prince Edward Island as the attacker was added last-minute without much recent professional football on his resume.

Months later, well, let’s just say you could nearly see Smyrniotis’ grin through his mask from the video press conference in San Salvador.

“Mo has experienced some different places around the world so he knows how to come into situations like this and be at his best,” Smyrniotis said. “He was excellent on the ball and made some good decisions. He’s been great in training, and he’s been improving since we got back from PEI because, keep in mind, the Island Games were his first competitive matches in a long time.

“His finishing, his movement, and how quickly he moves the ball… they’ve all improved.”

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