The 2022 club football season in Canada began this midweek with 2021 CONCACAF League semi-finalists Forge FC, and 2021 Voyagers Cup winners CF Montreal beginning their campaigns in this year’s CONCACAF Champions League. Up against opposition from the regional powerhouse of Mexico’s Liga MX, both sides would have to be at their very best in order to advance with Montreal’s facing Santos Laguna, and Forge taking on Cruz Azul.
Santos Laguna 1 – CF Montreal 0
Montreal held out for eighty-eight minutes at the Estadio Corona before an Alberto Ocejo goal left Montreal with an uphill climb after a tightly contested game in Torreón. It could have been all so different early on as Montreal started the game brightly. Đorđe Mihailović played a ball into the path of Romell Quioto in the Santos penalty area, the Honduran striker then made space for himself in the box before firing a low shot passed Carlos Acevedo to give Montreal a 1-0 goal lead. However, upon a VAR check, Montreal midfielder Lassi Lappalainen was deemed to have committed a foul in the build-up and the goal was disallowed by Jamaican referee Oshane Nation.
Santos grew into the game at that point and was soon troubling the Montreal goal. In the thirteenth minute, midfielder Alan Cervantes put a dangerous ball across the box into the path of Eduardo Aguirre, whose goal-bound back heel effort was saved by Montreal keeper Sebastian Breza. Santos threatened again on the twenty-eighth-minute mark when Aguirre won the ball in Montreal territory and drove the ball into the box. Despite having strike partner Harold Preciado as an option in the box, Aguirre shot himself and was again denied by Breza. The ball rebounded into the path of Aguirre but once more the young goalkeeper from Ottawa was a match for his effort.
Santos would continue to have the best chances throughout the first half, with their next best effort coming from a Fernando Gorriarán corner on the thirty-seventh minute which was met by the head of the danger man, Eduardo Aguirre who at this point must have been bemoaning his luck as Breza denied him again and kept the game 0-0 at half time.
Wilfried Nancy‘s side started the second half much better than they ended the first and were soon creating chances of their own as they grew into the game. The first effort came just before the hour mark when Mathieu Choinière’s made himself some space with the ball before finding forward Joaquin Torres on the edge of the box with the Argentines shot going just wide of the far side of the goal. Just five minutes later, Montreal produced some great play around the Santos penalty area, and this time it was Torres’ turn to be a provider as he set up Rida Zouhir on the edge of the box and again, the shot went just wide atop the crossbar.
In the seventieth minute, Quioto would be next to go close for Montreal when he controlled a long cross-field pass into the box, and his resulting goal-bound shot was saved by Carlos Acevedo. It looked as if Montreal would take a 0-0 result with them back to Quebec before heartbreak ultimately set in with just two minutes left of regular time.
From the right-wing, Santos substitute Carlos Orrantia played a ball into the box for Fernando Gorriarán. Gorriarán took the ball past Montreal defender Kamal Miller and then looked to play the ball across the box. Miller’s defensive partner Joel Waterman did well to intercepted the cross, but unfortunately, his effort deflected the ball up into the air and into the path of Santos Alberto Ocejo, who simply couldn’t miss from close range and he made it 1-0 late on in the match which was how it finished, with Pedro Caixinha’s side holding a slim 1-0 lead going into the second leg.
Forge FC 0 – Cruz Azul 1
Just three years ago, Forge played in the inaugural Canadian Premier League game. Now, they were making history, becoming the first-ever team from the CPL to play in CONCACAF’s biggest stage against Mexico City side Cruz Azul.
The Hamilton outfit had the first big chance on the night, beginning with a throw-in upfield, there was good play from new signing Terran Campbell and Aboubacar Sissoko before the ball was passed to midfielder Tristan Borges, who put on the afterburners to get passed two Cruz defenders before but his effort from the edge of the box went just over the bar. Despite this, it would be the visitors who would strike first just seven minutes later. From about thirty yards away from goal, Cruz midfielder Rómulo Otero hit a free-kick over the wall before it proceeded to take an awkward bounce, leaving Hamilton keeper Triston Henry off balance and unable to intervene as the ball went into his bottom left corner for a goal which gave the Mexican side a 1-0 lead.
Determined to strike back, Forge came close again on the forty-minute mark. Kwasi Poku’s floated ball towards the edge of the box was met by Borges and he set up Forge captain Kyle Bekker but the Swede couldn’t keep his shot down as it sailed over the bar. Despite being 1-0 down at the break, Forge was well and truly still in the game.
Just seven minutes into the second half, Cruz Azul came close to doubling their lead. Firstly from a corner, goal scorer Rómulo Otero’s corner required Henry to make a save directly from his corner before the ball was put out from another corner. Otero’s next corner was initially defended but Forge wasn’t able to properly clear the danger. Eventually, the ball was worked to Érik Lira, and he put a dangerous floated ball into the back post which Forge did well to defend against, denying oncoming Cruz attacker Luis Ángel Mendoza a goal.
The second half was a tight affair, but Cruz would have the better chances and their route one tactics were giving Forge problems. Seventy minutes in, a long ball from Cruz’s defence was missed by the Forge backline and just like that, Mendoza was clear on goal and Henry was forced to come off his line and make a smart save. Just two minutes later, Cruz again got possession of the ball in Forge territory thanks to a long ball upfield, this time they worked the ball around the penalty area into the path of substitute Uriel Antuna, and his effort went just wide.
There were no clear-cut chances for Forge in the last twenty minutes, and Cruz Azul held onto win the first leg 1-0, and take a lead into next week’s second leg at the legendary Estadio Azteca. While they would be disappointed in the result, Forge gave a good account of themselves, and they’ll believe that the tie is far from over.