Romulo Otero scored the only goal of the match as Cruz Azul grabbed a 1-0 win in Hamilton in CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 action.
The 31st minute goal from Otero came from a free kick about 35 yards out. His inconspicuous ball bounced just before the six-yard box with the trajectory fooling Forge FC goalkeeper Triston Henry.
It was a wet and windy evening at Tim Hortons Field, but Henry will have no excuses for not tracking the ball.
GOAL— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) February 17, 2022
Romulo Otero gives Cruz Azul a 1-0 lead at the half-hour mark as his free kick bounces off the turf and over Forge FC GK Triston Henry#SCCL22 | #CanPL | #ForgeFC
WATCH https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/KW2mr8BJHP
After their goal, Cruz Azul played a strong defensive game to keep Forge chances to a minimum. Peruvian defender Luis Abram was particularly solid on the evening. The attacking efforts from Forge were for the most part stifled by the Cruz Azul back four, as Forge did not have a single shot on target in the match.
Forge came away from the match with nothing to show for in terms of a result, but the home side played a very good game in front of the 4600 in attendance at Tim Hortons Field. Up against a true giant of Mexican soccer, Forge made their country proud with an assertive effort. One could even make the argument that Forge were the better side in the opening 45 minutes.
The home team applied the pressure in the first 10 minutes, earning two corners and two free kicks from dangerous positions. It appeared as though head coach Bobby Smyrniotis urged his side to make a strong first impression. Playing with the wind, it was probably a good idea.
Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson and Kyle Bekker were pests in the midfield, not allowing Cruz Azul too much time to get comfortable with possession. Overall, it was a physical first half with neither side afforded too much time on the ball.
New signing Ashtone Morgan, formerly of Toronto FC, was impressive in his Forge FC debut, shutting down any potential danger on the left flank.
It was Tristan Borges who had the first shot of the match 23 minutes in. After some tidy interplay with his teammates around the box, he fired a shot which sailed just above the crossbar.
Forge would get another quality look just before the halftime interval. Borges was involved again as he laid off a pass for club captain Kyle Bekker. Bekker’s attempt went too high as the wind at the back of Forge perhaps gave their shots a bit too much lift.
Cruz Azul came out from halftime on the front foot and never really looked back. With Forge unable to properly clear their lines, Cruz Azul earned four corner kick opportunities in the first few minutes of the second half.
Forge seemed to have trouble transitioning from midfield to attack. Former Pacific FC man Terran Campbell, who started up top for Forge, was devoid of much service in the second period. Bekker was pushed further up as the match went on with his passing ability needed in the attacking zones.
As the second half went on it was Cruz Azul who seemed the more likely side to grab the next goal. The passing from the away side looked a lot more confident compared to the first half. They would have a couple of chances to extend their lead, but in the end they were unable to find a second away goal.
In the 71st minute, Henry rushed out of his goal to get his hands on the ball before a Cruz Azul attacker could, as a potential counterattack chance loomed.
Cruz Azul would then have a great opportunity to double their advantage as a shot fell to substitute Juan Escobar, but he whizzed the ball just past the right post.
If Forge were to have a chance of their own it seemed like it would have to be from a counterattack, but they were not able to get behind the Cruz Azul backline. Cruz Azul’s defenders were well-disciplined, keeping the match in front of them at all times.
Smyrniotis would make his substitutions in hopes of finding a spark from off the bench. New signing Alessandro Hojabrpour was able to make his club debut from off the bench, coming on for Borges in the midfield. Familiar faces Chris Nanco, Emery Welshman, and Woobens Pacius were also brought on from the bench but were unable to make a real difference in the final third of the pitch.
Cruz Azul goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado did not have much to do in this one, as Forge did not manage a shot on target in the end.
Tonight's final stats from Leg 1 of the Round of 16 in @TheChampions! #ForgeFC | #SCCL22 pic.twitter.com/mlA3nbmaUb— Forge FC (@ForgeFCHamilton) February 17, 2022
The spirits within the Forge camp should be high as they head to Mexico. Even though they know they need a win at the Azteca in order to advance to the quarter-finals, Forge have no reason to not feel good about their chances after their performance on Wednesday night. Speaking to Kristian Jack after the match, captain Bekker shared his thoughts on the performance. “It’s never easy when you lose obviously with the result, and I think there’s a ton of positives for us to take away from this.”
Looking ahead to the second leg, Smyrniotis stressed the importance of his side’s frame of mind before their match in Mexico City. “That’s the only way you move forward, mentality is everything. Everybody can kick a ball… but you have to have a strong mentality about how we go into situations.”
Forge FC will have their second leg rematch on February 24 as they look to pull off an upset against Cruz Azul. You can watch that one live on OneSoccer with kickoff scheduled for 8:30 pm EST.