Not for the first time in 2020, Forge FC have been waiting a while for their next game. They'll kick off on Tuesday night against Arcahaie FC in the Concacaf League quarter-final, exactly four weeks after they booked their ticket to this round with a win over Tauro FC in Panama. Since then, they've returned to Canada, undergone a 14-day quarantine, and flown south again (to the Dominican Republic this time). All the while, though, they haven't lost sight of what's at stake. Even on Thursday night, as Kyle Bekker and Triston Henry accepted their CPL Player of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year awards, respectively, there was no pretense that their work in 2020 is finished. With the squad operating out of Punta Cana this past week to acclimatize to the Caribbean conditions, they've been very aware of what's at stake right now. If Forge defeats their Haitian opponents on Tuesday, they will qualify for the 2021 Concacaf Champions League, making them the first Canadian Premier League club to do so. It won't be easy — Bekker pointed to Arcahaie's round of 16 defeat of Waterhouse FC as evidence of the Haitian side's defensive ability and work ethic — but the incentive is staggering.
BROADCAST ALERT: Forge FC vs. Arcahaie FC, Tuesday Dec. 1 at 7:50 pm ET on TSN2 & TSN.ca
"Everyone knows the gravity of the situation and what it would mean for this club and our league as a whole if we can qualify for that next stage," Bekker told CanPL.ca. "We know what's on the line, but I wouldn't say there's an everyday air and nervousness about it... This isn't the first do-or-die game that we've played, so I think we're going in there with, by no means a cockiness, but definitely a hunger to go in and achieve this and keep continuing to write history — another page in this Forge book that we've started the last two years." In such a bizarre year, Forge's various successes have been a little fragmented — the conversation, naturally, ebbs and flows between periods of action. Between all the travel, the quarantines, and the bubbles, though, the Hamilton-based squad have come out of it more tight-knit and cohesive than ever. Bekker pointed out that his team's accomplishments in 2020 would be incredible no matter how you slice it, but the conditions of this year have made it all the more remarkable. "What we've achieved this year and the circumstances we've done it, it's definitely unprecedented," he said. "When you step back and you take a whole screenshot of the trips we've done, everything, it might not be more than a normal year, but it's so condensed. It's every travel day in three separate trips, which is a little crazy when you think about it like that. There's been long periods of time where we've spent more time with each other than we have with our families back home. "We all definitely have a goal in mind, and that's to continue to win, to continue to have success, with the idea that if we do this, some guys can move on and further their career. And on the other side of it, we're setting the bar for Canadian soccer and the CPL." Through it all, Forge have clung to that sense of national pride; on all their trips to Central America and the Caribbean, they've carried the Canadian flag well and represented the league on an international stage. On top of their personal ambition, the Forge squad can feel that their quest through the Concacaf League is, in some ways, bigger than just them. "I think any time a team, whether it's a team in MLS or us now, if you're playing down there in that competition you know how much weight it holds and what it means if you can go down there and get a result or a victory," Bekker said. "I think we definitely like the fact that we're making Canadians proud and it's definitely something that's a little bit of added motivation to the group." Bekker and his companions will attempt to take another step further than any other CPL team on Tuesday, in what's undoubtedly — for the fourth time in a row — their biggest game of the year.