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Forge FC beaten by Costa Rica's Santos in opening leg of CONCACAF League quarterfinal

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — Forge FC scored early but could not hold onto the lead Wednesday, falling 3-1 to Costa Rica's Santos de Guapiles in the first leg of their Scotiabank CONCACAF League quarterfinal.

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — Forge FC scored early but could not hold onto the lead Wednesday, falling 3-1 to Costa Rica's Santos de Guapiles in the first leg of their Scotiabank CONCACAF League quarterfinal.

Javon East, Christopher Meneses and Brayan Lopez scored for Santos. Kyle Bekker had the Forge goal.

The return leg is Nov. 2 in Hamilton.

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. The four semifinalists move on to the Champions League, along with the two best losing quarterfinalists.

Bekker opened the scoring for the Canadian Premier League champions in the sixth minute, beating Santos 'keeper Kevin Ruiz with a low right-footed shot from around the penalty spot after Forge's Costa Rican midfielder Joshua Navarro cut the ball back to his captain in the penalty box.

East replied for Santos in the 12th minute, scoring on a header off a Osvaldo Rodriguez free kick. The Forge defence did not react quickly enough to the set piece, with the Jamaican international striker left unmarked.

Meneses made it 2-1 for the home side in the 17th minute with a shot that deflected off Forge defender Dominic Samuel into the goal with 'keeper Triston Henry rooted to the spot. Rodriguez delivered the original cross that was headed away but not to safety, finding Meneses instead.

Forge's Omar Browne had a good chance in the 36th minute on a three-on-two counterattack. The Panamanian forward elected to keep the ball himself rather than pass and curling his shot just wide.

Lopez upped the Santos lead to 3-1 in the 52nd, left alone in front of goal for a tap-in after a pretty passing play opened up the Forge defence. Juan Diego Madrigal found Rodriguez with a cross and the Santos skipper set up Lopez.

Forge appealed unsuccessfully for a penalty after Navarro went down in the box in the 60th minute under a Pablo Arboine challenge.

Currently third in the CPL at 13-8-1, Forge is also still alive in the Canadian Championship with a semifinal date against CF Montreal on Oct. 27.

Santos stands second in the Costa Rican league.

Two other quarterfinals Thursday pit Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa against Guatemala's Comunicaciones FC and an all-Honduran matchup in CD Marathon versus FC Motagua.

Guatemala's Club Deportivo Guastatoya has already advanced to the semifinals after Suriname's Inter Moengotapoe and Honduras' CD Olimpia were booted from the competition midway through their round-of-16 tie for what CONCACAF called "serious breaches of integrity rules." 

Wednesday marked Forge's fifth game since Oct. 3. The team blanked visiting Atletico Ottawa 2-0 at Tim Hortons Field in CPL play last Saturday and will be in Halifax this Saturday to face HFX Wanderers. Sandwiched in the middle is the 3,765-kilometre trip to Estadio Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Forge advanced to the CONCACAF League final eight with a 2-0 aggregate victory over Panama's Independiente. The teams tied 0-0 in Hamilton before Forge won 2-0 in Pamama on goals by Mo Babouli, who was controversially sent off in first-half stoppage time, and Bekker. 

Santos downed Panama's CD Plaza Amador 3-0 on aggregate in its round-of-16 series. The Costa Rican side was runner-up in the CONCACAF League in 2017, losing to Honduras' CD Olimpia in a penalty shootout. 

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

Forge, two-time CPL champions, came into the Wednesday's contest with a 6-3-3 record in CONCACAF League play. Wednesday's game was its first against Costa Rican opposition. 

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 13 games at home in the competition, with the rest in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, the Dominican Republic and now Costa Rica.

The Hamilton side also made it to the CONCACAF League quarterfinals last year, beaten by Haiti's Arcahaie FC in a penalty shootout. It then lost 1-0 to CD Marathon in a play-in match, which represented one final chance to qualify for the Champions League. 

In 2019, Forge lost to Olimpia in the round of 16.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021

The Canadian Press