Forge FC, fresh off a 3-1 road win over Valour FC in Canadian Premier League action last weekend, are ready for their next international challenge.
Having progressed past Guatemalan side Antigua GFC in the preliminary round of the CONCACAF League, Forge now faces Honduran giants CD Olimpia, with the first leg set for Thursday at Tim Hortons Field and the return match a week later at Estadio Nacional in Tegucigalpa. Forge’s hopes in the first leg will be boosted by reports that Olimpia will be shorthanded due to the 2019 Pan-Am games in Peru, as well as ongoing visa issues.
“They’re a quality squad, historic squad,” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said after training on Monday. “A lot of success, not only domestically, but in competitions like this one – two years ago they won this CONCACAF League.
“They’re a high-tempo team, a team that likes to attack and get up the field, very vertical in the way they play with some very good pieces up top.”
Founded over a century ago, Olimpia, who won the inaugural edition of this tournament in 2017, are well-decorated, both domestically and internationally. For Forge striker, Anthony Novak, who scored twice against Valour and set up the third, the Honduran outfit pose “a different challenge.”
“They’re a team with a long history,” Novak offered. “A very good opponent. We’re preparing heavily for this one.
“It requires an extra level of focus, especially now that Valour is behind us, all the attention is on CONCACAF.”
As in the previous round against Antigua, where a 2-1 home win proved decisive, Forge will be looking to make the most of the first leg.
“It’s the same thing,” Smyrniotis said. “We need to have a positive result here to give ourselves a good chance of going forward. This is a tough competition, tough two games, but having the first game at home and the way we play at home – playing on the front foot – is very positive.
“We gained a lot of experience from that first round with Antigua. They were a quality squad and that gave us good confidence going into this one.”
Starting the series at home has its advantages, according to Novak: “When a team has to come all the way from Honduras, you want to take advantage of that and do your best to get ahead in the tie, especially when you have to go to a place that is hostile – everybody has seen the news.
“It’s probably best we get the leg up ahead of time.”
For a Forge side that played its first competitive match a little less than four months ago, that first taste of competition against Central American opposition offered valuable lessons and experience heading into this series.
“You’re playing teams that are more established, that have more of an identity and are a little bit different from what we face here every week,” Smryniotis explained. “Antigua were a squad that can change tempo in the game very quickly and can defend in spurts and attack in spurts, play in transition, hold onto possession.
“We were able to see something different.”
David Choiniere’s late strike in the first leg gave Forge a lead to protect heading down to Guatemala, where they gutted out a 0-0 draw to progress. Having already sampled what an away leg in CONCACAF entails will serve them well when they travel to Honduras, but it also fostered belief and desire heading into the series opener on Thursday.
“Getting a positive result down there does a lot for the confidence. We talked about it the day before the game,” Smryniotis stated. “Some of the players on our team were playing in League1 Ontario last year. It was quite a different experience for a lot of the guys.”
“Getting that result was fantastic in getting us to this round,” the coach continued. “The guys are hungry for more.
“They realize this is a unique competition and like everywhere in the world, you always want to play in your [region’s] Champions League, your continental competition from a club aspect. We’ve got the ability to keep on going if we’re sharp.”
Thursday marks the start of a run of three massive games for Forge.
After welcoming Olimpia, Forge hosts Cavalry FC in a CPL clash on Sunday – the two teams are separated by a single point in the Fall standings. Forge then head to Honduras for the return leg.
For the coach, there was no better way to kick off this stretch than earning a “good three points” away to Valour.
“This past weekend that was important to the psychology of our team, going into this on a positive note,” Smyrniotis said. “Everyone is aware this is a big week with some big games, but we’ve got all of our attention on Thursday.
“When it comes to Sunday, we know our opponent, we know them well, it’s nothing new, so all of it is geared towards Thursday and then we’ll have a couple of sleeps to get ready for another very, very good CPL game.”