Forge FC, coming off a month-long layoff, survived a physical opponent and a red card in the second half to dispatch CD Municipal Limeno 2-1 in a Scotiabank CONCACAF League preliminary-round game Thursday.
Substitute Anthony Novak’s 83rd-minute goal proved to be the difference for the Canadian Premier League champions on a humid night at an empty Estadio Cuscatlan, the national stadium in the El Salvador capital.
Novak controlled a fine ball from Dominic Samuel that landed just inside the penalty box and hammered a shot past goalkeeper William Torres. The goal came after some a stretch of pressure from the Canadian side with Mo Babouli tormenting Limeno defenders.
Forge lost fullback Johnny Grant in the 64th minute for a second yellow card in a choppy second half that featured a lot of whistles from Honduran referee Selvin Brown.
Forge will stay in Central America, heading directly to Panama for a Nov. 3 round-of-16 date with Tauro FC.
The 22-team CONCACAF League competition is a feeder tournament, sending the winner and next five best-ranked clubs to the 2021 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League.
Limeno was making its debut in the tournament. Forge reached the round of 16 last year.
“This isn’t our first go-round and it’s something that we want to make a statement for our club and the culture,” said Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis.I think these games and these wins, especially winning down here, go a long way. This is our first win down in the CONCACAF region away from home.”
Thursday’s game marked the first action for Hamilton’s Forge since Sept. 19 when it defeated HFX Wanderers FC in the Island Games final. Municipal Limeno, meanwhile, is two games into its new season and played on the weekend.
“This is a game we really wanted. We also knew that it was a difficult situation for us,” said Smyrniotis. “You come off of a high of winning a championship just over a month ago and after that everything kind of just settles down. You’re into an environment where you’re only training, no friendly matches, no real competitive spirit. Now you’ve got to come into what is your next most important game n the season.”
“Going down (to) 10 men, we thought we did a good job earlier and probably should have had one or two more goals… When you’re down (to) 10 men and you can come out with a victory down here, it’s a big thing. That’s massive for the guys. Now we can breathe a little bit and get prepared for the next one.”
Forge fielded the same starting 11 as in the Canadian Premier League final with the exception of Kadell Thomas coming in for suspended midfielder Kwame Awuah.
Forge had the better start but Limeno came on as the first half wore on.
Forge’s David Choiniere opened the scoring in the 21st minute, the beneficiary of a marvellous Babouli pass. Choiniere’s run took him between the centre backs before sliding a left footed shot past an onrushing Torres.
Limeno tied it up in the 38th minute through Kevin Oviedo. The Forge defence converged on Harold Alas high in the penalty box and he laid the ball off to an open Oviedo, whose shot overpowered Triston Henry.
Limeno had difficulty taking advantage of the man-advantage and had trouble dealing with Babouli’s offensive trickery.
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.
COVID-19 continues to dog the tournament, however.
Thursday’s match between Costa Rica’s LD Alajuelense and the Dominican’s Cibao FC was postponed pending further testing in the wake of “ inconsistencies which raise the possibility that (pre-game) CONCACAF protocols were not followed.”
Tuesday’s game between Haiti’s Arcahaie FC and Belize’s Verdes FC was postponed just hours before kickoff after four players and four staff members from Verdes FC tested positive.
There were also positive tests ahead of the preliminary-round match between El Salvador’s CD FAS and Nicaragua’s Managua FC, but not enough to call off the game.
Forge was 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.
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.