Hamilton’s Forge FC takes on Chivas of Mexico in Wednesday’s Champion’s Cup opening leg


Published February 6, 2024 at 4:26 pm

Forge FC will need more than a slingshot when they play giant killer Wednesday at Tim Hortons Field against Mexican powerhouse CD Guadalajara in the opening leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

The Hamilton side, two-time defending CPL champions, will have to go to battle against the Mexican team, known as Chivas, without all-star goaltender Tristan Henry – a two-time CPL Golden Glove winner – who is away from the team to deal with personal matters.

The match will be a tough go no matter who is in net (22-year-old Christopher Kalongo, who has been Henry’s understudy for several years, gets the call) as Chivas has a dozen league titles, two Champions League crowns (the last in 2018 against Toronto FC on penalties) and a 118-year history to draw from.

Chivas, who traditionally employs only Mexican players (though their latest hire, 37-year-old Fernando Gago, has earned 61 caps for Argentina), has several national team members on its stacked squad as well as former Manchester United and Real Madrid strike Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandez, though the forward is still working his way back from injury.

Several other regulars are also nursing injuries but Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis, who has been patrolling the sidelines for all five of Forge’s CPL seasons and all four of its league championships, isn’t expecting Chivas’ identity to change much.

“This is a squad that is very deep, that’s very experienced. There are a lot of good players in the squad,” he said at the pre-game press conference. “It’s a team with a lot of energy, they have quality players across the pitch so we don’t expect a lot to change if players are out of the lineup.”

The club is also a month into their season, while Forge is still in pre-season mode, with the home opener still more than two months away.

But Chivas will be making a huge tactical error if they treat Forge with anything but respect. The club has been in every CPL final since the league’s inception and this will be the team’s fifth CONCACAF tournament.

Forge also has more recent experience with continental competition, with Chivas’ last appearance their 2018 cup triumph. The Hamilton club made it to the round of 16 in 2022 and has logged 16 games in the now-defunct Concacaf League, reaching the semifinals in 2021.

Forge made returning to the Champions Cup a main goal of the 2023 CPL season and accomplished that with a victory on home field in the championship game October 28.

Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis and team captain Kyle Bekker at the pre-match press conference

Possession-first attacking football is Forge’s forte, a strategy that will be tested against Chivas, which typically lines up in a 4-3-3 formation, looking to dictate play through strong midfield play. With away goals in play and an unproven ‘keeper in net, the home side will want to keep a clean slate going back to Mexico for the return leg next week.

The attacking style of the Mexican club is something that is no secret for Forge captain Kyle Bekker and his teammates. “They’re obviously a massive club that have very good players and there are going to be spurts in the game where they’re going to have the bulk of the possession, that’s just the reality. I think that’s something we’re not necessarily used to in our domestic league, we like to control the pace of the game,” he said. “We have to be brave and just go out and play. We want to impose ourselves in the match as best we can.”

Chivas went winless in their opening three league matches this season but comes into Wednesday’s match with two straight victories under their belt.

Kick-off at Tim Hortons Field is 8 p.m.

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