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Mexico's Chivas defeats Forge in CONCACAF Champions Cup play

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HAMILTON — Newly acquired U.S. international Cade Cowell scored two goals and set up another Wednesday as Mexico's Chivas Guadalajara downed Forge FC 3-1 to take a commanding lead into the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions Cup first-round series.

Ricardo Marin also scored for Chivas. Terran Campbell replied for the Canadian Premier League champions before an announced crowd of 11,513 at Tim Hortons Field, where it was around 0 C at kickoff.

Forge started well but paid in the 25th minute for a Beni Badibanga giveaway in its own half. Fernando Gonzalez's no-look pass split the Forge defence and Cowell buried a left-footed shot for his first Chivas goal.

Campbell tied it up five minutes later, knocking home a perfect Tristan Borges cross in what was Forge's first real go at goal. Alessandro Hojabrpou played his part with a long-range pass that sent Borges flying down the left flank.

Cowell played provider in first-half stoppage time, dodging a defender to deliver a cross aimed at two teammates unmarked in the Forge penalty box. The ball found Marin who headed it home to give the visitors a 2-1 lead.

Forge was caught shot on a rapid-fire counterattack in the 63rd minute with Cowell getting behind the defence and beating goalkeeper Christopher Kalongo.

Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis liked a lot of what he saw, given his out-of-season team's lack of preparation. But he rued giving up a second goal just before halftime.

"It's unfortunate. Because when you give up a goal there in injury time in the first half, it's a lot different," he said. "One minute later, if that doesn't go in, you come into the changing room and it's a different mood in the team. But that's football."

The return leg of the first-round series is set for Tuesday at Estadio Akron in Zapopan, Mexico, where the altitude is some 1,500 metres.

The Forge-Chivas winner will play either Mexico's Club America or Nicaragua's Real Esteli FC in the round of 16. Esteli upset the visiting Mexican powerhouse 2-1 in the first leg Tuesday for its first Champions Cup win in 31 matches.

The revamped CONCACAF competition, which features 27 teams and five rounds, will crown the confederation club champion with the winner representing CONCACAF at the new, expanded FIFA Club World Cup

The other Canadian sides taking part are the Vancouver Whitecaps and Calgary's Calvary FC.

Wednesday marked Forge's first competitive game since Oct. 28 when it edged visiting Cavalry 2-1 after extra time to win its fourth CPL title. While Forge's regular season doesn't kick off until April 13, Chivas is five games into the Liga MX Clausura — sitting eighth at 2-1-2.

Kalongo started in goal for Forge in place of veteran No. 1 Triston Henry, a two-time CPL goalkeeper of the year who is taking time off to deal with a personal matter, according to the club. Kalongo, a 22-year-old from Oakville, Ont., who came up through the Sigma FC ranks, had previously made three appearances across his two seasons with the club (2022-23)

"He did a great job today for us," said Smyrniotis.

Senegalese midfielder Elimane Cissé and Ghanaian winger Nana Opoku Ampomah also weren't available as Forge waits on their work permits.

Chivas, which beat Atlético de San Luis 2-0 Sunday in Mexican league play, left Roberto Alvarado, Victor Guzman, Erick Gutierrez and Gilberto Orozco at home. Veteran forward Javier (Chicharito) Hernandez, formerly of Manchester United and the Los Angeles Galaxy, re-signed with Chivas last month but is returning from a knee injury.

While known for relying on Mexican talent, Chivas started Cowell, a 20-year-old California-born forward acquired last month from the MLS San Jose Earthquakes for a reported US$4 million, and Spanish-born goalkeeper Oscar Whalley. Both have Mexican citizenship through their family ties.

Forge lost Kwasi Poku in the 11th minute to an apparent leg injury.

Chivas won the tournament in its last appearance in 2018 when it defeated Toronto FC via penalty shootout in the final. Forge lost to Mexico's Cruz Azul in the opening round of 16 in 2022, in its first trip to CONCACAF's top-flight club competition.

Founded in 1906, the iconic Mexican club has 4.2 million followers on Twitter and 3.3 million on Instagram. Forge, which started play in 2019, has 12,000 on Twitter and 27,500 on Instagram.

Forge qualified for this year's tournament as CPL champion. Chivas booked its ticket as the 2023 Clausura runner-up.

Forge, a four-time CPL champion, also competed in the now-defunct CONCACAF League, a feeder tournament to the then-CONCACAF Champions League, in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Forge reached the semifinals in 2021, losing to Honduras' Motagua on the away goals rule.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 202