February 25th, 2024

CPL champion Forge jumps into deep end with CONCACAF Champions Cup date with Chivas

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on February 6, 2024.

Forge FC midfielder Kyle Bekker (10) is tripped up by Cavalry FC midfielder Jesse Daley (8) during first half Canadian Premier League finals soccer action in Hamilton on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. CPL champion Forge FC, whose league season doesn't start until April 13, jumps into the deep end of CONCACAF Champions Cup play Wednesday when it hosts Chivas Guadalajara in the first leg of their first-round series. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nick Iwanyshyn

Canadian Premier League champion Forge FC, whose league season doesn’t start until April 13, jumps into the deep end Wednesday when it hosts Mexico’s Chivas Guadalajara in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions Cup first-round matchup.

Chivas’ domestic season is already underway with the team sitting eighth in the Mexican Liga MX standings at 2-1-2.

“It’s a team that’s in full stride,” said Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis. “So if you think you’re going to walk onto the pitch and you’re going to match them on the fitness level, you’re wrong. So you have to be very methodical as a team, you have to really plan well, try and get the tactics done as best as possible.

“But remember this isn’t American football or basketball where there’s a lot of whistles. The game starts in the first minute and it keeps on going. So I lean on the players, the experience of the players that they’ve had in the past to guide themselves through the good moments of the game and through the tough moments of the game.”

Forge spent Jan. 15-31 in Queretaro, Mexico, preparing for Wednesday’s game at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field. The return leg is set for Feb. 13 at Estadio Akron in Zapopan, Mexico.

“I think we have to come into the game with a certain level of humility,” said Forge captain Kyle Bekker. “They’re obviously a massive club. They have very good players and there’s going to be spurts in the game where they’re going to have the bulk of the possession. That’s just the reality.

“That is something “¦ we’re not necessarily used to in our domestic league where we like to control the pace of the game. But we have to be brave, we have to go out and try and play and we’re not going to change too much of that in our style.”

The forecast for Wednesday calls for a high of 5 C and low of minus-one, well above the seasonal average. But still well below the expected high and low in Guadalajara (29 and 11 C).

“Minus-20 would have been good,” Smyrniotis said with a smile. “This is a little bit too comfortable for everyone “¦ We’re hoping if we don’t maybe get that cold that we want (Wednesday), we get that beautiful wind that comes off the mountain.”

Forge will be without starting goalkeeper Triston Henry, who is taking time off to deal with a personal matter.

“We’re behind him on that and we continue forward,” said Smyrniotis.

Senegalese midfielder Elimane Cissé and Ghanaian winger Nana Opoku Ampomah also won’t be available as Forge waits on their work permits.

Chivas has opted to leave Roberto Alvarado, Victor Guzman, Erick Gutierrez and Gilberto Orozco at home.

“I don’t even think they know who’s missing, who’s here, who’s not,” Smyrniotis said of his players. “It’s not something that we really discuss because we know we’re going to face a very good team.”

The Forge-Chivas winner will play either Mexico’s Club America or Nicaragua’s Real Esteli FC in the round of 16.

The revamped CONCACAF competition, which features 27 teams and five rounds, will crown the confederation club champion with the winner representing CONCACAF at the new, expanded FIFA Club World Cup

Forge is joined in the field by the Vancouver Whitecaps and Calvary FC.

Forge qualified by winning the CPL title last year. The Whitecaps joined the field by winning the Canadian Championship while Calgary’s Cavalry earned its entry by finishing first in the CPL regular season.

With B.C. Place Stadium already booked, the Whitecaps host Mexico’s Tigres UANL at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C. on Wednesday. Because of the weather in Alberta, Cavalry will also open tournament play in Langford on Feb. 21.

The Whitecaps-Tigres winner will face the Cavalry-Orlando victor in the round of 16.

Forge, a four-time CPL champion, is no stranger to CONCACAF competition.

It lost to Mexico’s Cruz Azul in its first trip to CONCACAF’s top-flight club tournament in 2022. Forge also competed in the now-defunct CONCACAF League, a feeder tournament to the then-CONCACAF Champions League, in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Forge reached the semifinals in 2021, losing to Honduras’ Motagua on the away goals rule.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2024

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