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Forge FC ready for another challenge on the road in the CONCACAF League

With eight of its past 11 Scotiabank CONCACAF League matches having taken place away from home, Forge FC is all too familiar with playing on hostile ground.

With eight of its past 11 Scotiabank CONCACAF League matches having taken place away from home, Forge FC is all too familiar with playing on hostile ground.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Premier League champions find themselves in Panama City, looking to dispatch Panama's Independiente in the second leg of their round-of-16 tie at Estadio Rod Carew. The teams drew 0-0 last Tuesday at Tim Hortons Field.

"This isn't our first rodeo," said Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis.

"We enjoy every aspect of it," he added. "We'd rather be here than not be in the competition, of course. We've had some success and want to keep on going. So we can't let the little things of travel, of different things, be anything of an issue for us. Especially coming off a match Saturday night. We just relish the moments and keep on going."

The first-leg result means CPL champion Forge will advance with a tie or win Tuesday.

"We need to go out and play," said Smyrniotis. "One thing's for sure, we know our opponent a lot better now than we did last week having played that first leg."

Forge, third in the Canadian Premier League at 10-7-1, is coming off a 2-1 home win Saturday night over league-leading Pacific FC. Former Independiente striker Omar Browne (pronounced brow-knee) came off the bench to score the winner in the 80th minute in his Forge debut.

"He's looked sharp in training," Smyrniotis said. "He's picking things up very well on the tactical side and what we're asking from the players. So we're happy in where he is with his progress."

Added Forge captain Kyle Bekker: "He's a great player and we're happy to have him, especially for competitions like this. Obviously he knows this (Independiente) team very well and hopefully can give us a little bit of insight on how we can kind of get the better of them (Tuesday) night."

The CONCACAF League is a feeder tournament that will send six clubs to the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, the flagship club competition in the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. 

Forge 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 games at home in the competition, with the rest in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

After hosting Pacific on Saturday evening, Forge was at the airport the next morning. Twelve hours later, the team checked into its Panama City hotel. It will squeeze in one practice on Panama soil before Tuesday's game. 

Independiente, whose team was fully vaccinated, was able to travel to Canada for an opening leg that saw Forge missed a penalty after Independiente defender Francisco Vence was called in the 39th minute for handball in his penalty box. Goalkeeper Cesar Samudio dove the right way and got a hand to Daniel Krutzen's penalty kick. 

Smyrniotis saw the glass-half full after the first leg.

"All games that you don't lose in this competition are positive results," he said.

Forge will be without star attacking midfielder Tristan Borges, who is serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation. 

Independiente, whose full name is Club Atletico Independiente de La Chorrera, knocked Toronto FC out of the 2019 Champions League with a 5-1 aggregate triumph in the round of 16. 

Independiente had a bye to the round of 16 this year after qualifying as the 2020 Clausura champions with the best aggregate record in Panamanian football. 

Forge defeated El Salvador's CD FAS 5-3 on aggregate in the preliminary round last month, with both legs played in San Salvador.

The Hamilton side 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 Honduras' CD Marathon in a play-in match, which represented one final chance to qualify for the Champions League. 

In 2019, Forge lost to Honduras' Olimpia in the round of 16. 


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2021.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press