2021 Concacaf League -- Preliminary Round Forge FC vs. CD FAS August 12, 2021 at 8 pm ET Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador, El Salvador Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca
Forge FC are back on the international stage, and they're looking to make some history. This week, the reigning CPL champs are in El Salvador, preparing to go toe-to-toe with one of the country's top clubs in CD Futbolistas Asociados Santanecos (commonly referred to as FAS) in the preliminary round of the 2021 Concacaf League -- for which Forge qualified by virtue of winning the 2020 CPL title. After advancing to the quarter-finals of this competition last year before falling to Haitian side Arcahaie (and then Marathón of Honduras in the Concacaf Champions League play-in game), Forge will be very hungry to take another step forward -- especially after the heartbreaking way in which their journey ended last December. Last year, they advanced one round further than they did in 2019, with their round of 16 win over Panama's Tauro FC taking them ever so close to the Champions League, so this time around they're eager to jump that final hurdle and continue setting the bar for Canadian clubs in this region. That said, it'll be far from easy for Forge -- which always seems to be the case. Although the 2021 tournament has reverted to a two-legged knockout format, after playing single elimination matches in 2020, Forge still won't get a home game in this tie. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the first leg has been moved from its originally-scheduled date at Tim Hortons Field, and instead both games of this round will be played in San Salvador (with Forge being the "home" team for this first match). Although the Canadian side are, in reality, on the road for both legs, the away goals rule is in effect for this tie -- meaning that if the two sides are tied on aggregate goals after two games, whoever scored more in their designated "away" leg will advance. So, it'll be vital that Forge's defence remain tight on Thursday to avoid conceding a dreaded away goal. The winner of this preliminary round tie will move on to the round of 16, where Panamanian club Independiente await. It's been a roller coaster of a season so far for Forge, who sit fourth in the Canadian Premier League right now with a 6-0-5 record. The Concacaf League has always been a major priority for this club, though, so expect their absolute best on Thursday night in San Salvador.
3 THINGS TO WATCH:
- Familiar territory for Forge: Although the Hammers would much rather be playing this game at home, there's at least one silver lining: this tie in El Salvador will still be on somewhat familiar ground. Forge played (and defeated) CD Municipal Limeño at Estadio Cuscatlán -- El Salvador's national stadium -- in the preliminary round of last year's competition. Playing on the road in Central America is absolutely nothing new to this club, and they'll be more confident in their ability to handle the conditions in San Salvador by virtue of experiencing them before. Head coach Bobby Smyrniotis affirmed as much a few weeks ago, when he pointed out that a little familiarity can go a long way in Concacaf: "So we’re going to go do it the difficult way, (but) it’s something that we know. It’s a stadium we played in last year against Limeño so at least it gives us that certainty of knowing where we’re going, we know where we’re staying hotel-wise, we know what the food is like, we know what the pitch is like and how it plays." Winning this tie will by no means be easy, but Forge will have extra confidence knowing that they've been successful in this very place already.
- Bekker, Smyrniotis sidelined for Leg 1: Another wrinkle to make this first leg even trickier: Forge will be without head coach Bobby Smyrniotis and captain Kyle Bekker on Thursday. Both were sent off at the end of the club's last Concacaf League game in December against CD Marathón -- a frustrating contest that ended Forge's hopes of Champions League qualification. As a result, assistant coach Kyriakos Selaidopoulos will take over sideline duties from the gaffer for this match. On the pitch, losing Bekker will be a blow to a side that's already shorthanded, with recent Concacaf League hero Daniel Krutzen in particular missing the past few weeks, plus a handful of other key contributors dealing with knocks. Having played against Atlético Ottawa on Sunday, it's a bit of a short turnaround for Forge considering the travel down to El Salvador, but these sorts of challenges are things they've certainly dealt with before.
- Who are CD FAS? Forge are slated to take on the biggest and most successful club in El Salvador, who have 18 league titles to their name. FAS won the Concacaf Champions' Cup (the predecessor to the Champions League) in 1979. Last season, however, they did not advance past the preliminary round of the Concacaf League, getting upset on penalty kicks by Nicaraguan side Managua. Like Forge, the furthest FAS have advanced in this competition is the quarter-final (which they did in 2018, losing to Arabe Unido of Panama), but they have also participated in the Concacaf Champions League three times (in 2010, 2012, and 2014). Their campaign in the Salvadoran Primera División began a few weeks ago, and so far they have won two and and drawn one match. Last season, they were crowned champions of the league's Clausura season, beating Alianza on penalties in the final. The FAS squad is composed primarily of El Salvador internationals including winger Dustin Corea (a former FC Edmonton player) who has 15 senior international caps. They've been led so far this year, though, by Colombian striker Luis Arturo Peralta, who has three goals from three games.
First meeting between these teams.
First meeting between these teams.