‘A good lesson’: Forge FC in Hamilton bow out to Cruz Azul in Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League


Published February 24, 2022 at 11:48 pm

Forge FC's Garven Metasula, left, races for the ball against Cruz Azul in Mexico City during Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League play on Thursday. (CONCACAF Match Photography)

Forge FC lost out in Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League to Mexico City side Cruz Azul as the history and form predicted — but hope not lose the lesson.

At the famed Estadio Azteca on Thursday night, Cruz Azul scored right off the hop and added a dagger just before the break in an eventual 3-1 win against Forge FC, the first Canadian Premier League side to appear in the Champions League. That completed a 4-1 win on aggreggate for Cruz Azul, who will face another Canadian team, CF Montréal from Major League Soccer, in the next round of the continental club championship.

“At the end of the day, we played a world-class team out here and that shows,” said Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis, who has helmed Hamilton’s pro soccer club since the CPL’s launch in 2019. “But we also came out here, and played our football. We stood on the ball. We did some good things out there. That was important for us. But it’s always going to be difficult when you get scored on in the fourth, and the 43rd minute.”

The magnitude of a fourth-year team in a Canadian league playing a top Mexican side with nearly a century of history in a stadium that has hosted the World Cup final twice was not lost on Forge and Smyrnioti . The Hamilton club also earned their ticket to the dance last season through qualifying in similarly structured playoff against teams from the Caribbean and Central America.

“You realize as a group, as a club, we’ve done something special,” Smyrniotis added. “Three years of competing and doing things right, we’ve been rewarded greatly by being in this competition. We know we’re up against it with a club such as Cruz Azul and our goal was to stay in the competition, but having a little taste of it gives us the drive to go forward.”

Up 1-0 after a first-leg win last week at Tim Hortons Field, Cruz Azul struck in the fifth minute when Angel Romero volleyed home a free kick. In the 21st, Rafael Baca curled a long shot into the top right corner of the net that skimmed the fingertips of Forge goalkeeper Triston Henry.

At that point, Smyrniotis was looking for anything that might stimulate some offence, and he flip-flopped wings David Choinière and Tristan Borges. Working from the right side rather than his usual left, Choinière pulled one goal back in the 26th by besting Cruz Azul ‘keeper Sebastián Jurado with a low shot.

Choinière characterized the matches against Cruz Azul as eye-opening for Forge.

“It’s a team that doesn’t lose the ball often,” he said. “When you lose it, they close the space down. It’s a good lesson. We’ll grow and learn and improve from that.”

Following a corner kick late in the half, Juan Escobar restored the three-goal margin, heading home a setup from Luis Ángel Mendoza.

Cruz Azul has existed since 1927, and have been champions of Mexico nine times. Within the last decade, they have also been ranked as one of the top 100 pro teams in the world and the third-best in CONCACAF.

Forge FC, meantime, will begin the CPL campaign with a west coast visit for a championship-game rematch against Pacific FC on April 10 in Victoria. Their home opener in league play is April 16 against Cavalry FC, of Calgary.

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