Forge FC faces uphill battle in rematch with Mexico's Chivas after 3-1 loss last week

Trailing 3-1, Forge FC faces an uphill battle on the road Tuesday in the return leg of its CONCACAF Champions Cup tie with Chivas Guadalajara.

Adding to the degree of difficulty is the altitude — some 1,500-plus metres — at Estadio Akron in Zapopan, Mexico.

Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis, who believes the first-leg result flattered the Mexicans somewhat, says his team has to look beyond the score.

"If you focus on that it becomes a very difficult task when you think about it, playing away from home," he told the pre-match news conference Monday. "What you have to do is take the moments. We know we have to score goals. We also know that in the first game we've played a lot of good football but little details let us down. So we know we need to be near perfect with those details and it's one goal at a time.

"We also don't fool ourselves. We're playing a massive club. For us we need to (have a) perfect day on this pitch."

Smyrniotis wants Forge to show its identity and stick to its style of football.

"We're here because we're champions. We're here because we're (Canadian Premier League) champions four years out of five years back in Canada," he said.

U.S. international Cade Cowell did the damage for Chivas in the first leg last Wednesday at Tim Hortons Field, scoring two goals and setting up another. Ricardo Marin scored the other Chivas goal while Terran Campbell replied for Forge.

The Forge-Chivas winner will play either Mexico's Club America or Nicaragua's Real Esteli FC in the round of 16. They meet Wednesday with Club America looking to rebound from a 2-1 loss on the road.

The Vancouver Whitecaps visit Mexico's Tigres on Wednesday. Their first leg in Langford, B.C., ended in a 1-1 tie.

The other Canadian side taking part is Calgary's Calvary FC, which opens its first-round series against MLS's Orlando City on Feb. 21 in Langford.

The revamped CONCACAF competition, which features 27 teams and five rounds, will crown the confederation club champion with the winner representing CONCACAF at the new, expanded FIFA Club World Cup.

The opening leg of the Champions Cup tie marked Forge's first competitive game since Oct. 28, when it edged visiting Cavalry 2-1 after extra time to win the CPL title. While Forge's regular season doesn't kick off until April 13, Chivas is six games into the Liga MX Clausura — sitting seventh at 3-1-2 after defeating Juarez 2-1 Saturday.

Forge will be without midfielder Kwasi Poku, who injured a hamstring early in the first leg. He was replaced by Tristan Borges, who set up the Forge goal.

Forge is still waiting on their work permits for Senegalese midfielder Elimane Cissé and Ghanaian winger Nana Opoku Ampomah.

Chris Kalongo started in goal for Forge in place of veteran No. 1 Triston Henry, a two-time CPL goalkeeper of the year who is taking time off to deal with a personal matter, according to the club.

While known for relying on Mexican talent, Chivas started Cowell, a 20-year-old California-born forward acquired last month from MLS's San Jose Earthquakes for a reported US$4 million, and Spanish-born goalkeeper Oscar Whalley. Both have Mexican citizenship through their family ties.

Chivas won the tournament in its last appearance in 2018 when it defeated Toronto FC via penalty shootout in the final. Forge lost to Mexico's Cruz Azul in the opening round of 16 in 2022, in its first trip to CONCACAF's top-flight club competition.

Founded in 1906, Chivas has 4.2 million followers on Twitter and 3.3 million on both Instagram and TikTok. Forge, which started play in 2019, has 12,100 on Twitter, 27,800 on Instagram and 19,000 on TikTok.

Forge qualified for this year's tournament as CPL champion. Chivas booked its ticket as the 2023 Liga MX Clausura runner-up.

Forge also competed in the now-defunct CONCACAF League, a feeder tournament to the then-CONCACAF Champions League, in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Forge reached the semifinals in 2021, losing to Honduras' Motagua on the away goals rule.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2024.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press