In a word, that could be the best possible way to describe this momentous occasion in which a Canadian Premier League team emerged victorious in the league’s first foray into International football.
Forge FC – the pride of Hamilton, Ontario took the field in a match that would send reverberations around the CPL. Antigua GFC, (coincidentally not from Antigua, the country) is a Guatemalan side with a history dating back to the 1950’s. 61 years of history against a team with barely 6 months of playing history. Antigua GFC is considered a powerhouse in Guatemalan football, and they always seem to be hovering around the top of the Liga Nacional table. If we’ve learned anything from the Canadian Premier League squads this year, it’s that they are not easily intimidated by the history of their opponents.
The lineup fielded by manager Bobby Smyrniotis was as close to full-strength as it has been all season. Welshman, Borges, and Zajac leading the line with Bekker and Cisse being the main providers. The biggest challenge was down the Forge FC left side. Kwame Awuah was tasked with shutting down Antigua’s most dangerous threat in Jairo Arreola and at times made him seem a spectator. Awuah was immense on the night using his pace to recover, but also using it to cause havoc in the Antigua half. It was a clinical fullback performance that any manager would be happy with.
The scoring was opened by Antigua in the 33rd minute as the initial free kick from Pacheco was blocked, but the ensuing volley by Pacheco was world class. The looping effort left Henry scrambling in the Forge goal, but it was all for nought. There was no goalkeeper in the world saving that strike.
After the Antigua goal, the match got increasingly chippy. The Guatemalan side definitely saw their opportunity to expose the physical and aggressive Canadian side. Playing to the Costa Rican referee, Antigua GFC players were dropping like flies. The slightest touch from a player in orange would drop them to the ground like a an overly ripe avocado. The respite was not far away for Forge as the half-time whistle brought a needed rest.
As the second half began, Forge were on the front foot. The blast from the referee’s whistle had only just subsided when Daniel Krutzen headed home a Kyle Bekker corner that wasn’t dealt with by Moran. Forge were on the board with their first international goal, and it seemed to set the tone for the rest of the second half.
The Forge FC players were flying about. Whatever Coach Bobby had drilled into them at half-time had stuck and players like Tristan Borges and Kyle Bekker were laser-focused on the task at hand. Borges specifically began taking players on, playing smart passes and spreading the field. Forge were finally looking like the squad that had seen them start so well in the CPL season.
The combination of pressure and beautiful runs off of the ball would ultimately result in David Choiniere getting free in the Antigua box, his 91st minute strike would send Tim Horton’s Field and the thousands watching at home into a frenzy. Could it be that a relative infant of an organization could unseat an established juggernaut of Guatemalan football such as Antigua?
The final minutes of the match passed like molasses; Barton Street Battalion beying for the final whistle and the international legitimacy that comes with a CONCACAF League win. As the final whistle sounded, the Antigua players looked stunned. The supporters and players shared in the win and the satisfaction that they had one foot in the next round.
The further-reaching impact of a win like this (and the Canadian Championship showings) shows that the Canadian Premier League has the necessary quality to play with the big boys. It puts Canadian talent front and centre for the world to see and also puts the CONCACAF Nations on notice that the Canadian Premier League is coming.
It’s coming, and it is elite.
Feature Photo via CONCACAF