Undermanned Forge downs Independiente to reach CONCACAF League quarters

Mo Babouli and Kyle Bekker scored as 10-man Forge FC defeated Panama’s Independiente 2-0 Tuesday to reach the quarter-finals of the Scotiabank CONCACAF League.

Babouli was in the thick of things, with a goal in the 27th minute and a red card in first-half stoppage time at a mostly empty Estadio Rod Carew. Bekker, like Babouli a former Toronto FC player, made it 2-0 off a glorious set piece in the 54th minute.

The teams played to a scoreless draw last Tuesday at Tim Hortons Field, with Independiente ‘keeper Cesar Samudio saving a Daniel Krutzen penalty late in the first half.

The CONCACAF League is a 22-team feeder tournament that will send six sides to the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, the flagship club competition in the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Hamilton-based Forge, the defending Canadian Premier League champion, advances to face either Panama’s CD Plaza Amador or Costa Rica’s Santos in the quarter-finals. The two Central American sides meet Wednesday in Panama City with Santos holding a 1-0 lead in the round-of-16 series.

Forge improved to 6-3-3 in career CONCACAF League play.

Forge went ahead Tuesday off a Bekker corner. The Forge captain found an unmarked Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson at the back post and the six-foot-two Swede headed it back towards goal where Babouli, nipping in front of an Independiente defender, headed it past Samudio.

Bad blood

There was some bad blood in the game with Forge players upset at the play-acting of Independiente players. Forge was reduced to 10 men when Babouli was sent off after an incident with Abdiel Macea on the eve of halftime.

Macea objected to a Babouli challenge and got in the Forge player’s face. Babouli swatted away Macea, making little contact, but the officials saw an elbow as Macea went down dramatically and Costa Rican referee Keylor Herrera eventually produced the red card.

The ejection seemed unwarranted with a shocked Babouli eventually leaving the pitch.

Bekker made it 2-0 in the 54th, beating Cesar Samudio under the crossbar with a beautiful free kick from just outside the penalty box.

Forge, currently third in the CPL at 10-7-1, sent on former Independiente forward Omar Browne in the 63rd minute. Browne came off the bench to score the winner in the 80th minute in his Forge debut Saturday, helping the Hamilton side to a 2-1 win over league-leading Pacific FC.

The second half essentially saw Forge in full defensive mode after going ahead 2-0. Needing three goals to advance, Independiente threw everything into attack.

Independiente played to a 0-0 tie with Alianza on Saturday, rotating its roster to rest starters. The Panama side fielded the same lineup as the first leg.

Borges suspended

Forge was without star attacking midfielder Tristan Borges, suspended for yellow card accumulation. Babouli came in for Borges with Emery Welshman replacing Woobens Pacius.

The CPL side has been the tournament’s road warrior, with pandemic-related travel restrictions forcing it on the road the last 18 months. It has played just three of 12 games at home in the competition, with the rest in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

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

Independiente had a bye to the round of 16 this year after qualifying as the 2020 Clausura champions with the best aggregate record in Panamanian football.

The Hamilton side also made it to the CONCACAF League quarter-finals last year, beaten by Haiti’s Arcahaie FC 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.

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