Forge FC holds Panama’s Independiente to scoreless draw in CONCACAF League play

CPL champion Forge tied FC Panama’s Independiente 0-0 in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie Tuesday in Scotiabank CONCACAF League play.

Forge will rue a missed penalty after defender Francisco Vence was called in the 39th minute for handball in the Independiente penalty box, with the ball making contact with his arm as he attempted a sliding tackle on David Choiniere after the Forge midfielder tried to jink his way past. But goalkeeper Cesar Samudio dove the right way and got a hand to Daniel Krutzen’s penalty kick.

Forge pushed for a goal in the second half but could not breach the Independiente defence.

The return leg is Sept. 28 at Estadio Rod Carew in Panama City. Forge will have to play without star attacking midfielder Tristan Borges who picked up his second yellow card of the competition in the 31st minute.

Independiente, whose full name is Club Atletico Independiente de La Chorrera, knocked Toronto FC out of the 2019 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League with a 5-1 aggregate triumph in the round of 16.

The CONCACAF League is a feeder tournament that will send six clubs to the Champions League, the flagship club competition in the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Earlier Tuesday, CONCACAF announced a revamped, expanded Champions League tournament starting in 2024 that will see two CPL teams qualify.

Forge defeated El Salvador’s CD FAS 5-3 on aggregate in the preliminary round last month, with both legs played in San Salvador.

Independiente, which skipped the preliminary round, had a bye to the round of 16 after qualifying as the 2020 Clausura champions with the best aggregate record in Panamanian football.

Long-awaited return home

Tuesday marked Forge’s first home CONCACAF League game at Tim Hortons Field since August 2019. The contest, played in windy wet conditions, drew an announced crowd of 2,911.

Forge has been the tournament’s road warriors, with pandemic-related travel restrictions forcing it on the road the last 18 months. Eight of its 10 CONCACAF League games have been played away from home, including the last seven — three in El Salvador, two in Honduras and single games in Panama and the Dominican Republic.

Helped by the fact that the Panama side is fully vaccinated, Forge was able to welcome Independiente this time.

Dressed in dark blue and black, the visitors looked dangerous from the get-go. Forge got an assist from the linesman’s flag when a fourth-minute Independiente goal off a free kick was called back for offside.

Forger ‘keeper Triston Henry had to make an 11th-minute diving save off Guido Rouse’s shot from just outside the penalty box after a Forge player slipped and lost possession of the ball. Henry needed some treatment after the ensuing corner, suffering a facial cut from a clash of heads with Krutzen.

Henry needed a new jersey and a plaster above his eye to continue. In the 21st minute, he used his body to block another Independiente shot on target.

Pacius, Bekker threaten

The home side came close in the 51st minute but forward Woobens Pacius could not get his header on target from a fine cross from Jonathan Grant. Samudio then got a hand to Kyle Bekker’s dipping shot from distance in the 57th minute. The Forge captain put another one on target less than 10 minutes later.

Former TFC draft choice Emery Welshman, who recently rejoined with Forge, came on in the 75th minute as Forge looked for a goal to take with them to Panama.

Forge, third in the CPL at 9-7-1, was coming off a 2-1 win over Valour FC on Sept. 15 in the quarter-finals of the Canadian Championship.

Forge made it to the CONCACAF League quarter-finals last year, beaten by Haiti’s Arcahaie FC in a losing in a penalty shootout. It then lost 1-0 to Honduras’ CD Marathon in a play-in match, which represented one final chance to qualify for the Champions League.

In 2019, Forge lost to Honduras’ Olimpia in the round of 16 in the feeder tournament.

The Hamilton side was without defenders Maxime Tissot and Dejan Jakovic and forward Omar Browne, a former Independiente player. Forge started eight Canadians against the all-Panamanian side.