Forge FC one win away from booking ticket to CONCACAF Champions League

Hamilton Forge FC's David Choiniere (7) celebrates a goal with teammate Anthony Novak (23). (Peter Power/CP)

After a season that has taken it from Hamilton to Charlottetown, El Salvador and Panama, Forge FC hopes the Dominican Republic is the last stop on the way to the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League.

The Canadian Premier League champion from Hamilton can earn a spot in CONCACAF's elite club tournament with a win over Haiti's Arcahaie FC on Tuesday in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF League, a feeder competition for the Champions League.

The four quarterfinal winners in the 22-team CONCACAF League qualify directly for the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League. The four losing quarterfinalists will compete in single-leg play-in games, with the two winners moving on.

Arcahaie is playing the game in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo to make use of the larger Estadio Olimpico Felix Sanchez.

"It's a challenging game. It's been a challenging 2020 for all of us on this team," Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said Monday evening. "Just asking them to start and stop on so many occasions and do what they're doing away from their families and their home."

He called the Haitian side "a very good team who's here for a reason. They're the champion of Haiti."

The Haitians advanced Nov. 5 with a 3-1 round-of-16 win over Waterhouse FC in Kingston, Jamaica, in round-of-16 play. Forge edged Panama's Tauro FC 2-1 on a stoppage-time penalty two days earlier in Panama City.

Arcahaie advanced to the round of 16 when Belize's Verdes FC pulled out of their Oct. 20 preliminary-round match due to positive COVID-19 tests. That match was also scheduled for Santo Domingo.

Forge defeated El Salvador's CD Municipal Limeno 2-1 in San Salvador on Oct. 22 in preliminary-round play.

The Canadian side has been training in Punta Cana, some 170 kilometres east of Santo Domingo, since Nov. 21. Forge made the trip to the capital earlier Monday.

While the Canadian men's basketball team opted not to play in two FIBA AmeriCup 2021 qualifying games in the Dominican in November due to COVID-19 concerns, Forge elected to come south.

"I leave it to our team manager who put together a great itinerary and trip for us down here, keeping the guys safe," said Smyrniotis.

He said the club is also relying on CONCACAF as a resource for the trip.

Smyrniotis said the team opted to come early to get more training in after serving its 14-day quarantine back home in the wake of the El Salvador-Panama trip. He also noted it had snowed in Hamilton while they were down south.

The CPL champion, thanks to its triumph in the Island Games in Charlottetown during the summer, will also have a chance to qualify for the main CONCACAF club competition when it takes on Toronto FC in final of the Canadian Championship scheduled for the first quarter of 2021.

Forge exited the CONCACAF League in the round of 16 last year, beaten 4-2 on aggregate by Honduras's Olimpia.

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