PANAMA CITY – Mo Babouli and Kyle Bekker scored as the 10-man Forge FC defeated Independiente de Panamá 2-0 on Tuesday to reach the quarterfinals of the Scotiabank CONCACAF League.
Babouli was in the thick of things, scoring a goal in the 27th minute and a red card in first-half injury time at a nearly empty Rod Carew Stadium. Bekker, like Babouli, a former Toronto FC player, made it 2-0 on a glorious set piece in the 54th minute.
The teams drew scoreless last Tuesday at Tim Hortons Field, with Independiente goalkeeper Cesar Samudio saving a Daniel Krutzen penalty late in the first half.
Forge FC to draw goalless with Independiente de Panamá in CONCACAF League
The CONCACAF League is a 22-team feeder tournament that will send six teams to the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, the flagship club competition in the region covering North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Hamilton-based Forge, the defending Canadian Premier League champion, advances to face CD Plaza Amador of Panama or Santos of Costa Rica in the quarterfinals. The two Central American teams will meet on Wednesday in Panama City with Santos leading 1-0 in the round of 16 series.
Forge improved to 6-3-3 in his career in the CONCACAF League.
Forge took the lead Tuesday at a Bekker corner. The Forge captain found an unmarked Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson on the back post and the six-foot-two Swede headed towards goal where Babouli, cutting in front of an Independiente defender, headed him past Samudio.
There was some bad blood in the game with the Forge players upset by the performance of the Independiente players. Forge was reduced to 10 men when Babouli was sent off after an incident with Abdiel Macea on the eve of halftime.
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Macea objected to a challenge from Babouli and faced Forge’s player. Babouli hit Macea, making little contact, but the referees saw an elbow as Macea fell dramatically and Costa Rican referee Keylor Herrera finally pulled the red card.
The expulsion seemed unjustified with a surprised Babouli finally leaving the field.
Bekker made it 2-0 in the 54th minute, beating César Samudio under the bar with a beautiful free kick from outside the penalty area.
Forge, currently third in the CPL at 10-7-1, sent former Independiente forward Omar Browne in the 63rd minute. Browne came off the bench to score the winning goal in the 80th minute in his Forge debut on Saturday. , helping Hamilton’s team to a 2-1 victory over league-leading Pacific FC.
The second half essentially saw Forge in full defensive mode after leading 2-0. With three goals to go to advance, Independiente threw everything on the attack.
Independiente drew 0-0 with Alianza on Saturday, rotating their roster to rest the starters. The Panama side lined up the same lineup as the first leg.
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There were danger signs for Forge in the third minute on Tuesday when a header from Guido Rouse, following a good cross from Alexis Palacio, passed Triston Henry only to hit the goalpost.
Independiente hit the stick again in the ninth minute, this time with a free kick from Rafael Aguila. Rouse rebounded but the goal was declared offside.
Forge’s coach, Bobby Smyrniotis, reorganized his troops at halftime after the red card, sending Joshua Navarro for David Choiniere.
Henry was called up early in the second half, diving in to parry a deflected shot. Achinioti-Jonsson then cleared a high ball when Independiente came close to a free throw in the 50th minute.
Forge was left without a star offensive midfielder Tristan Borges, sanctioned for accumulating yellow card. Babouli replaced Borges with Emery Welshman replacing Woobens Pacius.
The CPL side has been the road warrior of the tournament, with pandemic-related travel restrictions that have forced it to travel for the past 18 months. He has played just three of the 12 home games in the competition, with the rest in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
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Independiente, whose full name is Club Atlético Independiente de La Chorrera, eliminated Toronto FC from the 2019 Champions League with a 5-1 aggregate victory in the round of 16.
Independiente went to the round of 16 this year after qualifying as the Clausura 2020 champion with the best global record in Panamanian football.
Forge defeated El Salvador’s CD FAS 5-3 on aggregate in the preliminary round last month, with both games played in San Salvador.
Hamilton’s team also reached the CONCACAF League quarter-finals last year, defeated by Arcahaie FC of Haiti on a penalty shoot-out. They then lost 1-0 to CD Marathon of Honduras in a play-in match, representing one last chance to qualify for the Champions League.
In 2019, Forge lost to Olimpia of Honduras in the round of 16.
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