2021 Concacaf League -- Quarterfinals (Leg 2) Forge FC vs. Santos de Guápiles (1-3 on aggregate) November 2, 2021 at 8 pm ET Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca // Buy tickets HERE

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Forge FC are hoping to make some more history on Tuesday night, as they wrap up their Concacaf League quarterfinal tie against Santos de Guápiles at Tim Hortons Field. The CPL club currently trail the Costa Rican side 3-1 on aggregate after the opening leg of a couple weeks ago, but by no means are they out of it as they return home for Leg 2. The Hamilton-based Forge enter this leg knowing they need to score at least twice if they're to have any hope of advancing to the semifinals. They scored a valuable away goal early in the first leg, thanks to captain Kyle Bekker just six minutes in, and even though the rest of the match got away from them a bit, they're not in an insurmountable hole now. A 2-0 win for Forge would put them through, and a 3-1 score would send things to a penalty shootout (although that's surely the last thing head coach Bobby Smyrniotis and co. would want, having gone 11 rounds against CF Montreal last week). Thankfully, Forge enter this match in some good form. They dismantled HFX Wanderers on Saturday, winning 4-1 in CPL action as they continue their chase domestically, and they looked very good playing a high press against MLS outfit Montreal in the Canadian Championship, despite the heartbreaking finish. Smyrniotis has touted this Santos game as the biggest in club history -- bigger than the Voyageurs Cup tie -- and expects a lot of hunger and desire from his group. "It's not your right to be in this competition," Smyrniotis told the media on Monday. "It's a privilege that comes along with being the champion of this league, and you don't know if that comes along every year. These competitions are important; continental competition has become part of the fabric of this club, of Forge FC. We want to make sure we keep going forward; one way to do that is to take care of business tomorrow night here and get ourselves into the Champions League for the start of 2022." As Smyrniotis alluded, Forge have a real shot at qualifying for next year's Concacaf Champions League (more on how exactly they can make that happen later), which would be another massive achievement for the club so early in its history. In terms of squad availability, Smyrniotis revealed that most of his players will be available for this one; Chris Nanco remains out at the moment, and Jonathan Grant is day-to-day, but Maxim Tissot is back in full training and saw the pitch briefly in Saturday's game. Dominic Samuel, having picked up his second yellow card of the tournament in Leg 1, will be out with suspension. The visitors Santos will, of course, be up for this game too -- for similar reasons. They've never qualified for the Champions League either, coming very close in 2017 when they made the Concacaf League final and lost to Olimpia (back then, only the tournament champion got a spot in the bigger competition). Like Forge, Santos have played three times since the first leg of this tie. They have a 1-1-1 record in that stretch, and they won their most recent outing 3-2 at home against Pérez Zeledón on Saturday. They're third in the Costa Rican top flight in this Apertura season so far, with only three games left. They seem to have rotated their squad a fair bit on Saturday ahead of this tie, with just six of the players who started against Forge last time getting the nod in that league match. Still, five of those six -- including Jamaican international Javon East -- went all 90 minutes in that match, so there may be at least a few tired legs for Santos. Tim Hortons Field has hosted many an entertaining night in the past three years; this match on Tuesday promises to be yet another special one.

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  • Several paths to the Champions League: This second leg of the quarterfinal presents a unique dual incentive to both teams, with the format providing six total qualification spots for the 2022 Concacaf Champions League. All four semifinalists will qualify automatically for the region's top club tournament, but so too will two of the losing quarterfinalists. Those spots will be awarded based on points earned starting from the round of 16. There will only be three losing quarterfinalists last year, since both Olimpia and Inter Moengotapoe were disqualified and Guastatoya went straight to the semis, so Forge only need to be better than one team to secure that qualification. As it stands, Forge have four points with a win and a draw in the round of 16; Honduran side Marathón sit behind them with just three. Marathón lost their first quarterfinal leg 2-0 at home against Motagua, and so if Forge win on Tuesday by any score -- and Marathón don't advance to the semifinal -- they'll be in the Champions League, regardless of whether or not they advance. "The focus is the semifinal, it's about advancing in this tournament," Smyrniotis said Monday. "We also know that with a win we put ourselves in a very good position to do things, so that's also in our mind; you have to know going into a match what's required, but of course we want to be able to keep on playing."​
  • Home field advantage key for Forge: This club has faced some very difficult conditions in previous Concacaf League road trips -- blistering heat, sweltering humidity, and bumpy pitches all spring to mind from trips to Central America. Now, though, Forge will do things on their own terms. This will be just the fourth Concacaf League game they've played on Canadian soil -- two of them in 2019, and one earlier this year against Independiente. They've never lost at Tim Hortons Field in this competition, and they intend to make full use of home advantage this time as well. In addition to the wind that usually blows through the stadium, the current forecast in Hamilton for Tuesday night is about three or four degrees Celsius ("The colder the better," Smyrniotis said Monday) -- a far cry from the low 20s in Costa Rica this time of year. Forge defender Kwame Awuah added: "Other places were grass fields; our turf, at nighttime, it gets a little bit slick and the ball moves a lot faster. With our home fans, with them we can do anything. The energy they brought to the Montreal game, the Halifax game, it's like a 12th man out there for us. I think them knowing it's an important game in our club's history and us playing out there for them, that's another advantage. Obviously the weather (is) a big deal; a lot of us have grown up in Canada, so we understand what it takes to play in cold weather, so hopefully that can play to our advantage."​
  • Forge need to shut down transition: The main way Santos was able to hurt Forge in the first leg was the incredible speed with which they moved up the pitch in transition. They'll post a very different threat to CF Montreal, who liked to play out of the back much more, so Forge might not play as aggressive a high press as they did last week. Santos did well playing fast and direct football to get Forge's defenders running backwards, so the Hammers will surely have been working on a strategy to mitigate that. Forge have plenty of tricks in their bag when it comes to tactics, and their deep squad means they have quite a few options for how they approach this game. Obviously, needing to score at least twice, Forge will have to get on the front foot as much as possible, but they can't afford to get exposed at the back again -- conceding an away goal, especially early on, would be quite devastating. "We know our opponents a lot more than we did before, now having played them down in Costa Rica," Smyrniotis said. "They're a very good team, a team that's shown a very good record in the Costa Rican league, and also what they've been doing in Concacaf, so I think it'll be an excellent match."​

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