CPL champion Forge FC ready for CONCACAF League opener in El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Forge FC returns to action Thursday, almost five weeks after capturing its second straight Canadian Premier League title.

This time the Hamilton team's opposition is El Salvador's CD Municipal Limeno in a CONCACAF League preliminary-round game at Estadio Cuscatlan.

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"I think the guys are in good spirits," Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said Wednesday evening in a virtual meeting with reporters. "They know the importance of this event. The importance for our club and for our city.

"At the same time we've had the troubles maybe that a lot of people have had in preparing for any event. Tough to get matches in this time period ... But apart from that there's no excuses."

The Forge travelling party left Tuesday, arriving in San Salvador via Mexico City. Thursday's game is taking place at the national stadium in the El Salvador capital rather than at Limeno's more modest home stadium in Santa Rosa de Lima, some 170 kilometres away.

Forge players trained at the stadium Wednesday.

"The pitch is good. It's pretty much what we thought it was going to be," said captain Kyle Bekker. "It's going to be warmer than back home, that's for sure, and definitely humid."

The forecast at kickoff calls for 23 Celsius.

Should Forge win Thursday, it will go directly to Panama for a Nov. 3 round-of-16 date with Tauro FC. A loss in San Salvador and the Canadian squad heads home Friday with a quarantine awaiting.

The 22-team competition is a feeder tournament, sending the winner and next five best-ranked clubs to the 2021 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League.

Originally slated to run from July to November, the CONCACAF League was postponed due to the global pandemic. The competition, which kicked off Tuesday, is scheduled to run through Jan. 28.

Preliminary-round and round-of-16 matches are being played as single-game ties at the highest-ranked club's stadium. All other rounds will be played as home and away ties.

The CPL champions are without defender Klaidi Cela, who tore knee ligaments in the CPL final, and forward Chris Nanco, who suffered a hamstring injury at the Island Games. Nanco could join the team in Panama if it advances.

Unlike Forge, which has not played since its win over HFX Wanderers FC in the Sept. 19 Island Games final, Limeno has recent two league games under its belt including a match Saturday.

"They've got some quality players across the pitch that at any point can cause you damage. That's the reason they're here," said Smyrniotis. "That's also the reason we're here."

While Forge has been idle recently, it has CONCACAF League experience, unlike Limeno.

Last year, Forge dispatched Guatemala's Antigua GFC 2-1 on aggregate in the preliminary round before losing 4-2 on aggregate to Honduras' Olimpia in the round of 16. The Honduran side made it to the semifinal before losing 4-3 to eventual winner Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica.

Forge has a chance to qualify directly to the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League by defeating Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship final, whose timing has yet to be announced.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2020

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