2021 Concacaf League -- Semi-Finals (Leg 1) Forge FC vs. FC Motagua November 24, 2021 at 8 pm ET Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca // Buy tickets HERE
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Having taken care of business in one semi-final over the weekend, Forge FC will turn their attention to another on Wednesday night as they host Honduran side Motagua in Leg 1 of their Concacaf League matchup. A place in the Final will be on the line in this two-legged tie, as Forge continue their quest to become the first Canadian club to lift a Concacaf trophy. The Hammers have already made an incredible run to this point in the 2021 tournament, having won three rounds already -- against CD FAS (El Salvador), Independiente (Panama), and Santos de Guápiles (Costa Rica). In the quarter-final against Santos, Forge overcame a 3-1 deficit after the first leg by winning 3-0 at home in Leg 2 to book their spot in the semis (as well as a place in next year's Concacaf Champions League). On Sunday, Forge advanced to their third consecutive Canadian Premier League Final with a 3-1 home victory over local foes York United, which gives them a chance to win a third straight league title -- this time on home turf, by virtue of finishing first in the regular season -- on December 5. Before then, though, they'll play out both legs of this tie with Motagua as they look to extend their season even further into December. It sounds like Forge will have some reinforcements, too; after Mo Babouli and Emery Welshman missed the semi-final with knocks, they've returned to full training with the club and will be available. Motagua, meanwhile, entered this year's Concacaf League in the round of 16, which means they've been through two ties before this one. They defeated Panamanian side Universitario 3-2 on aggregate, before sailing past a fellow Honduran team Marathón by a 4-0 scoreline in the quarter-final. Domestically, it's been an up-and-down season for Motagua, who -- like Forge -- are also in the thick of a playoff campaign at the moment. They finished fourth in the 2021 Apertura season of the Honduran Liga Nacional, which qualified them for a two-legged preliminary tie against Lobos UPNFM, and they won 5-2 on aggregate to set up a semi-final matchup with Real España that begins the same weekend as the CPL Final. Motagua -- also known affectionately as the Ciclón Azul -- are one of the most historic clubs in Honduras, having won the second-most league titles with 17. They have a very strong history in the Concacaf League, having gone all the way to the final in both 2018 and 2019 (though they lost both times, to Olimpia and Saprissa). In last year's competition, they fell in the quarter-finals, again to fellow Hondurans Olimpia. In two previous meetings against Honduran opposition (Olimpia in 2019 and Marathón in 2020), Forge have met the end of their continental journey. Will this third time be the charm for them? "We're a much different team than we were two years ago," Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said on Tuesday. "(Tim Hortons Field) is a place that we haven't lost in this competition, and it's important we keep that track record the exact same once that final whistle goes tomorrow."
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3 THINGS TO WATCH:
- Clean sheet imperative at home: In aggregate knockout ties, away goals are precious. In the quarter-finals against Santos, Kyle Bekker's goal in the road leg gave them a huge boost despite the 3-1 score after that first match; although Joshua Navarro scored late to put Forge fully in front in the home leg, the tie came very close to ending 3-3 on aggregate, which would have seen Forge advance because of their away goal. As always for the home team in the first leg, keeping a clean sheet is extremely important heading into the second game. Forge's back four of Kwame Awuah, Daniel Krutzen, Dominic Samuel, and either Elimane Cisse or Johnny Grant has been consistently solid this year, but it'll have to be at its best against very strong opposition.
- Physicality, intensity expected: In previous Concacaf League tests against Honduran teams, Forge struggled to deal with the aggressive, physical play of the opponent. This matchup is likely to have a similarly combative nature; Motagua were third in the Honduran league in fouls committed this year with 297 in 18 games (16.5 per match, compared with Forge's 13.3). Forge have a lot more experience in the continental game now, though, and they'll be much more confident in their ability to not be thrown off by the dark arts of Concacaf football. "I think the Honduran squads are sometimes a little bit similar," Smyrniotis said in his prematch press conference. "Motagua is a very similar to Olimpia from the first year, a team that can mix it up, they can play a lot of football, they can be direct, they can be physical."
- Talented Motagua have strong pedigree: The Honduran side coming to Hamilton this week is a very good one, and a very hard one to play against. They've been coached by Argentine manager Diego Vásquez since 2013, and they've had a lot of success since. Five members of their squad -- all of them defenders -- were part of the most recent Honduras national team squad for World Cup Qualifying, and both Diego Rodriguez and Marcelo Pereira started in the backline for them at BMO Field against Canada in September. Another two defenders, Omar Elvir and Carlos Meléndez, started both games of the most recent window against Panama and Costa Rica. Expect at least three of the four to form Motagua's backline on Wednesday. Up front, there's plenty of firepower too; 25-year-old Kevin López seems to be the dangerman, with 10 goals in 13 games. Motagua scored more goals than anyone else in the Apertura season this year, so there's a lot for Forge to keep an eye on. Forge coach Smyrniotis added: "They have a way of getting forward; getting good numbers into the box is very important for them as a team, and they use that distinct style to go. But I think they've got a number of weapons in the attack and they're a team that likes to go forward very quick and I think that's what gives them their success in the attack."