2021 Concacaf League -- Semi-Finals (Leg 2) FC Motagua vs. Forge FC (2-2 agg.) December 1, 2021 at 8 pm ET Estadio Nacional in Tegucigalpa, Honduras Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca
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Forge FC are on the precipice of another final this week, as they look to advance one step further in the Concacaf League by winning their semi-final tie with FC Motagua. They'll head down to Tegucigalpa -- not for the first time -- hoping for yet another extraordinary win in Central America (and their first in Honduras). The stage is set for a fascinating knockout match on Wednesday night, after last week's spectacular 2-2 draw in Leg 1 at Tim Hortons Field. Despite falling into a deep hole, down 2-0 as late as the 82nd minute, Forge clawed their way back in front of the Hamilton faithful -- first with Joshua Navarro's set-piece header, and finally with Kwame Awuah's 94th-minute equalizer to give Forge a stunning injection of new life before Leg 2. Now, both sides need just a win on Wednesday to advance to the final. In this second leg, things certainly won't get any easier for the Canadian side. After a few weeks playing in the conditions of an Ontario autumn on a turf pitch, Forge now must re-adjust once again to a grass pitch in the warmer Central American climate (likely around 20 degrees Celsius at kickoff). Plus, for the first time in this year's competition, Forge may have to contend with a hostile crowd at the Estadio Nacional in Tegucigalpa, with Motagua apparently hoping for a strong turnout in what's been billed as a massive game for their side as well. Motagua have plenty of talent within their ranks; Forge saw in Leg 1 just how dangerous Kevin López can be when given space, after he drifted in sneakily from the right wing to score. Beyond their leading scorer, though, Motagua have other strong pieces, including their quartet of defenders who have suited up for the Honduran national team in recent World Cup Qualifiers (Marcelo Pereira, Omar Elvir, Carlos Meléndez, and Diego Rodríguez). Apparently their stock will be boosted further this week by the return of attacking midfielder Iván López, who might pose a further threat to Forge's backline. Like Forge, Motagua had the weekend off between the two legs of this semi-final tie. Their domestic playoff campaign resumes this weekend when they take on Real España in the semis of the Honduran national league -- similar, again, to their Canadian foes, who will play the Canadian Premier League Final this Sunday, December 5 at home against Pacific FC. Before Forge can turn their focus to that final, though, they'll be very keen on getting through Motagua. The prize for victory on Wednesday night is a trip to Guatemala, with two sides from that country -- Guastatoya and Comunicaciones -- battling in the other semi-final of this year's Concacaf League. The latter side won Leg 1 away from home last week, so they're in the driver's seat, but either Guatemalan outfit could await the winner of this tie in the final.
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3 THINGS TO WATCH:
- Just win: The task is relatively straightforward for Forge: All they need to do on Wednesday is win. With the score 2-2 on aggregate, they're at a very slight disadvantage thanks to the away goals rule (a 0-0 or 1-1 draw would hand the tie to Motagua). That said, they're in much better position than they would be without Awuah's late goal. Forge have won 21 times this year -- more than any other club in Canadian professional soccer -- and they'll fancy their ability to do it again. Of course, that's much easier said than done on the road in Honduras. Forge have played in the country twice -- in 2019 against CD Olimpia, and in 2020 against Marathón -- and both times they lost. They remain unbeaten at home in Concacaf League play, but they'll need to pull out perhaps their most difficult result yet to move on to the final.
- Selection questions loom with injury, suspensions: Forge were notably shorthanded in Leg 1 with the absence of midfielder Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson, who missed out due to a suspension, as Maxim Tissot filled his usual role in the centre of the park. The Swedish stalwart will return for Leg 2, but Forge might nonetheless be without some key contributors: the versatile Elimane Cisse, who has played most frequently at right-back recently, is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Meanwhile, questions hover over the fitness of key defender Daniel Krutzen, who left Leg 1 before halftime with injury, as well as Jonathan Grant, who hasn't played since late October but would be a very useful fill-in for Cisse. Bobby Smyrniotis has a lot to consider when selecting his squad on Wednesday -- particularly with Sunday's CPL Final approaching as well.
- Beware set-pieces: Both Bobby Smyrniotis and Motagua manager Diego Vásquez spoke after Leg 1 about how important set-pieces had been to their game plan in Hamilton. Each team scored one of their goals from a dead-ball situation -- first Marcelo Pereira's header on a long-range free kick, and later Josh Navarro's header from a corner to bring Forge back within one. In a tight knockout match, those fine details often make the difference; Forge can't afford to leave men unmarked in the box like they did Pereira, or else they could find themselves battling from behind again. At the other end, deliveries from Kyle Bekker or Tristan Borges need to be sharp to make good use of Forge's own opportunities.