To say Forge FC has handled the COVID-19 bubble-bound world well is an understatement. An 11-match run at The Island Games ended with coach Bobby Smyrniotis' team winning a second-straight Canadian Premier League championship, while a switch to Concacaf League led to a historic victory over Club Deportivo Municipal Limeño in El Salvador. Now nestled in a Panama City hotel, Forge are set to face Tauro FC in the round of 16 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, TSN3 & TSN5) – which will mark their 58th day of competition while in a sequestered location in 2020. Team manager Jelani Smith, who played with many Forge players with Sigma FC in League1 Ontario, said his day-to-day responsibilities have shifted away from booking flights, hotels, and buses to getting players the food they want and making sure COVID-19 protocols are followed. "Your job as a manager is to make the team's job as easy as possible," Smith told CanPL.ca. "These environments make some things easier… but not everything."
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Concacaf League has presented some logistical hurdles, according to Smith, who has been with the team during his Central American sojourn as COVID-19 continues to hamper world travel. Forge left El Salvador the morning after their victory over Municipal Limeño – a first for a CPL team on the road in Concacaf League. "It's quite difficult to plan for because of the turnaround between games… You need to plan for both scenarios," Smith explained. "Either plan in the event that we don't win, or in the end we do that, a flight has to be booked moving on, and then the hotel has to be booked. "It’s the balance of uncertainty and betting on yourself and saying, 'hey, do we really want this flight?' Knowing we may need to bite some fare charges and maybe a couple of tickets there." COVID-19 tests are required five and two days before matches, with surveys and temperature checks executed by athletic therapist Emily Coleman. "To try and keep the guys informed on the policy and protocols… trying to have all the answers when you know the world isn't always interesting," Coleman told CanPL.ca, adding that the bubble atmosphere has led to a feeling of "flying by the seat of your pants. "I think it definitely adds another level of kind of organization and definitely stress as well from day to day life." Smith credits owner Bob Young, director of football Costa Smyrniotis, and equipment manager Joe Hanley for their professionalism as the team has travelled in Central America.
BROADCAST ALERT: Forge FC vs. FC Tauro, Tuesday Nov. 3 at 8pm ET on TSN3 & TSN5
The farther Forge advances, the more they'll play on the road. Alterations to the Concacaf League this week saw the implementation of single-legged ties throughout the tournament. Since Forge is the tournament's lowest seed, they'll play every single match on the road, including in the crucial quarter-finals against either Jamaican side Waterhouse or Arcahaie FC of Haiti. "The nature of the Island Games and how strict the players have been since the government shut down things in March, I think everyone here has been very responsible," Smith said. "To go six weeks in a bubble there and have no one test positive is an accomplishment. "Concacaf League doesn’t have too many restrictions... it's a bit difficult because the guys want to travel and they want to go outside and actually experience the countries we're going to." Coleman agreed, saying the new bubble is similar to the one on Prince Edward Island which, from a trainer’s perspective, went pretty well for Forge, who ended the two-games-a-week slog with only a handful of injuries, compared to what other CPL clubs dealt with during The Island Games.. "The fact that we came out of that tournament pretty healthy is great on their part," Coleman said. "They're very good at managing any little bumps and bruises along the way, the recovery systems that we had in our team room, our treatments with me or in the pool or in the gym. They did a very good job and still are. It’s quite impressive they were able to come out of that tournament without too many injuries."