There’s a sizeable mountain to climb facing Forge FC in leg two of their CONCACAF Champions Cup tie against Chivas Guadalajara on Tuesday.
Although Forge are unlikely to reach the summit and progress in the tournament, the Canadian Premier League champions are up for the challenge.
“It’s a difficult game. When you face an opponent like Chivas you have to try to play the best game we can,” head coach Bobby Smyrniotis told media on Monday. “We know that we have to score goals… we have to look for a perfect night.”
Following Tuesday’s clash at the Estadio Akron, there won’t be another match for the Hammers until April. Not only can valuable experience be collected from the contest, but a chance to win more respect and make another strong impression in continental play should be valued.
To an extent, Forge showed in the first leg at Tim Hortons Field that they are capable of competing with Chivas, at least during some of the 90 minutes. When Forge had possession, the tempo of the match visibly swung in their direction. Despite long build-ups being limited due to effective pressing from the visitors, who didn’t let up, the breakthrough did come, and it was magnificent: Tristan Borges and Terran Campbell collaborated on a vintage sequence to level the game. Alessandro Hojabrpour’s perfect switch-ball was vital, too.
That moment – Forge stretching the Chivas defence and catching them off-guard – will need to be replicated again come the second leg. The defensive shape that Chivas held when Forge had the ball was so strong and left no gaps to exploit or room for overlap plays or long dribbles. Chivas pounced on every loose ball, switching the momentum of the play in an instant.
Chivas made a habit of feeding the ball to Cade Cowell, a player Forge just couldn’t contain. Cowell was all over the attacking third, with Alex Achinioti-Jonsson struggling to keep up with him dashing around the field. Two goals and one assist made it a breakout night for the USMNT’s latest rising star. An inch-perfect assist to Ricardo Marín right before half-time flattened Forge.
The CPL winners did appear to be calm coming out of the dressing room after the break. After 45 minutes of observing how Chivas controlled the game, Forge did everything to move forward, and when they drew set pieces they established a rhythm. Garven Metusala and Malkik Owolabi-Belewu shut down transition plays and some well-earned runs of possession were promising.
But, unsurprisingly, the team with 117 years of history and two Champions Cup titles came through. One last play sealed the game with Cowell sliding the ball past Chris Kalongo.
The scoresheet wasn’t flattering for Kalongo, but as a 22-year-old making his first start for the club, four saves is a great number. He was bold attacking to ball to get it back upfield, and the goals from Chivas were far from his fault.
Smyrniotis said making those saves should give him confidence to keep going. And he will have to. A developing controversy involving starting goalkeeper Triston Henry and his contract means the CPL Golden Glove winner won’t be playing in orange for the foreseeable future.
Nobody knows if the squad had been briefed on the Henry situation before the world knew. If they are only finding out about the details at the same time as the public, that’s a significant issue. Forge needs anything but an issue like this hanging over their heads in leg two.
Forge can take a lot of lessons to be their best in the second installment of this battle. How will they go about it is a different question. Back on home soil, Chivas will be even stronger, and we can likely expect to see a bit of midfield maestro Erick Gutiérrez, main goalkeeper Miguel Jiménez, and the legendary Javier ‘Chicharito; Hernández. They continued their great form over the weekend by beating FC Juarez 2-1.
“We expect a little bit of the same,” added Smyrniotis. “They’re a quality club with quality players that have a style of play, and you can see that that’s distinct in what they do. We want to be able to do the same. We were happy with our performance in the first match and not happy with the result. But we want to come out and play.”
“They’re in shape, in midseason form,” added attacker Tristan Borges. “I think for us it’s just focusing on this game, knowing what we have to do, sticking to our game plan and just enjoying the moment as well.”
It’s a tough test. But when have Forge ever not been up and ready for one of those?