Forge FC's punishing schedule has taken the Canadian Premier League champions to Costa Rica, where the Hamilton-based side takes on Santos de Guapiles on Wednesday in the first leg of their Scotiabank CONCACAF League quarterfinal.
It marks Forge's fifth game since Oct. 3. The team blanked visiting Atletico Ottawa 2-0 at Tim Hortons Field in CPL play last Saturday and will be in Halifax this Saturday to face HFX Wanderers.
Sandwiched in the middle is the 3,765-kilometre trip to Estadio Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica.
"It's something we've learned to do over this year," Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said of the crowded calendar. "We're playing a heavy schedule, with a truncated schedule we have in the Canadian Premier League along with what will be our fifth match in the CONCACAF League (Wednesday).
"So it's just something that's become part of our DNA. It's something that the guys have bought into. We wouldn't want it any other way, at least for this year. We know it's a tough schedule. We've been doing well in the league and we have some important games coming ahead of us."
Currently third in the CPL at 13-8-1, Forge is also still alive in the Canadian Championship with a semifinal date against CF Montreal on Oct. 27.
Santos stands second in the Costa Rican league.
"They're doing a good job and they do it playing football in various ways. … They're a team that's very tactically versatile," said Smyrniotis. "So I think it's going to be be an exciting match just from that end."
The return leg is Nov. 2 in Hamilton.
The CONCACAF League is a 22-team feeder tournament that will send six sides to the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, the flagship club competition in the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The four semifinalists move on to the Champions League, along with the two best losing quarterfinalists.
Smyrniotis said his team's focus is on winning the CONCACAF League, rather than moving on to the bigger tournament.
"Our goal is to go as deep as we can in this tournament. There's a trophy in this tournament. That's the ultimate goal. Everything else that comes from it is a byproduct."
Guatemala's Club Deportivo Guastatoya has already advanced to the semifinals after Suriname's Inter Moengotapoe and Honduras' CD Olimpia were booted from the competition midway through their round-of-16 tie for what CONCACAF called "serious breaches of integrity rules."
Their game saw 60-year-old Inter owner Ronnie Brunswijk, Suriname's vice-president, start for his team in the Sept. 21 first leg in Paramaribo. Olimpia won 6-0. The return match was cancelled in the wake of the CONCACAF sanctions.
Citing "integrity concerns raised by a video which circulated on social media" after the match, the CONCACAF Disciplinary Committee handed Brunswijk a three-year ban from participating "in any capacity" in CONCACAF competitions.
The other quarterfinals pit Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa against Guatemala's Comunicaciones FC and an all-Honduran matchup in CD Marathon versus FC Motagua.
Forge advanced to the final eight with a 2-0 aggregate victory over Panama's Independiente. The teams tied 0-0 in Hamilton before Forge won 2-0 in Pamama on goals by Mo Baboul, who was controversially sent off in first-half stoppage time, and captain Kyle Bekker.
Santos downed Panama's CD Plaza Amador 3-0 on aggregate in its round-of-16 series. The Costa Rican side was runner-up in the CONCACAF League in 2017, losing to Olimpia in a penalty shootout.
Forge defeated El Salvador's CD FAS 5-3 on aggregate in the preliminary round, with both legs played in San Salvador.
Forge, two-time CPL champions, has proved to be a worthy opponent in the confederation with a 6-3-3 record in CONCACAF League play. Wednesday marks its first game against Costa Rican opposition.
The CPL side has been the tournament's road warrior, with pandemic-related travel restrictions forcing it on the road the last 18 months. It has played just three of 12 games at home in the competition, with the rest in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
They can add Costa Rica to that list.
The Hamilton side also made it to the CONCACAF League quarterfinals last year, beaten by Haiti's Arcahaie FC in a penalty shootout. It then lost 1-0 to CD Marathon in a play-in match, which represented one final chance to qualify for the Champions League.
In 2019, Forge lost to Olimpia in the round of 16.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press