It was a long journey, but Forge FC are finally settled in El Salvador to begin their 2020 Concacaf League journey.
The club was travelling for most of Tuesday, flying out of Toronto at 8 a.m. and arriving at their hotel around 8:30 p.m., having spent a long layoff in Mexico City en route to San Salvador.
After a team-wide round of COVID-19 tests, the club is spending Wednesday checking out the Estadio Cuscatlán, where they’ll take on Club Deportivo Municipal Limeño on Thursday (8:00 p.m. ET/TSN 3) in the preliminary round of the Concacaf League.
“You’ve always got to look at external factors to the match, what the pitch conditions are, the weather,” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis told CanPL.ca from San Salvador. “We’re looking at about 90 per cent humidity when we kick off (on Thursday), so that’s a factor that plays quite a big role in these games.”
The cavernous bowl they’ll be playing in –Estadio Cuscatlán is one of the biggest stadiums in Central America – won’t help in that regard, either.
Smyrniotis feels his team can handle any challenge that comes its way, though. Having been through the Concacaf League in 2019, his players have a better idea of what to expect. His primary message to the team over their past month of preparation has been, really, to focus on their game, rather than stress over uncertainty.
“The biggest thing we’ve looked at with this game is a big focus on us,” he said. “That’s very important, we’ve come out of Prince Edward Island and winning the (CPL) championship, and we’ve got a month in between that and this game, not being able to play friendly matches and so on. So we really had to focus on ourselves, just focus on working on those little details that can be better.”
He likened Thursday’s game to the start of The Island Games in August; having to jump right into a competitive game after a long layoff is by no means easy, but it’s not exactly brand new to Forge.
That said, they’re not going in quite as blind as one might expect. Smyrniotis and his staff are, apparently, better sleuths than the CanPL.ca staff. The coach said they’ve had video sessions on both of Municipal Limeño’s two regular season games played the past couple weeks, plus some low-quality footage of a pair of the club’s friendly matches.
They’ve also compiled individual dossiers on as many of Municipal Limeño’s players as possible; for a one-off knockout game, it’s impossible to be too prepared.
“They’re a very physical team, a lot of fouls in their games. They try to make things into a battle,” Smyrniotis said.
“That’s something we have to be aware about, we have to be prepared for. And we just have to be prepared and see how the referees will deal with that, and how frequently the whistle will be in their mouths or not in their mouths. That’s something you have to address very early in the game.”
Having been to Central America before, Forge will be familiar with those dark arts of Concacaf — the fouls, the time-wasting, all of it. Smyrniotis acknowledged that he’s discussed it with the players, who should be well prepared.
“If you as a player don’t believe in it or you don’t know it, you learn it very quickly,” he said.
“The majority of the group understands that. They lived it, if they didn’t believe it they got to see it last year. So now we get rid of all that and get prepared for this year.”
Unfortunately, Forge will have to contend with a few missing players when they take the field in San Salvador. Klaidi Cela (ACL) and Chris Nanco (hamstring) remain sidelined with injuries first picked up at The Island Games, and Marcel Zajac suffered a fractured wrist in training a few days before the cub flew to El Salvador.
Kwame Awuah, as well, will miss this first round with a suspension that’s carried over from last year’s Concacaf League campaign.
Still, no excuses. Forge have lofty aspirations for this competition, and they won’t be held back by a few absences.
Playing in an international competition is, to Smyrniotis, among the most beneficial things a young football club can experience.
“It increases and it builds the culture of your club and your organization. I think that’s the biggest thing that happens when you compete in continental competitions,” he said.
“Doesn’t matter where you are in the world, what player you are, what coach, what club.”