Cruz Azul 3-1 Forge FC – Match Analysis

Forge FC might be out of the CONCACAF Champions League for now, but the club can be proud to have even gotten to this point, and to have put up such a strong showing across the two legs. For a club founded less than four years ago to go toe to toe with one of Mexico’s most famous century-old clubs, is impressive enough. While they would have loved to progress to the next round of the Champions League, the confidence that Smyrniotis’ side will have taken from these two matches could be invaluable. Here is our match analysis of Forge’s final fixture in the CONCACAF Champions League for 2022.

FORGE FC – 4-3-3

Forge FC lined up in their typical 4-3-3 to 4-1-4-1 shape, this time shifting more consistently into something of a flat 4-5-1 in defense. Tristan Borges relocated from central midfield into the wide areas for this match, with former Pacific FC man Alessandro Hojabrpour entering the frame in place of Kwasi Poku. Giving it that 4-5-1 look, Jonsson often stepped into the midfield line’s height to cope with Romulo Otero’s movement, not to mention the rambunctious rotations happening everywhere on the pitch from a Cruz perspective. The defensive midfielder put up another impeccable performance in coping with all of that, acting as the midfield destroyer in the centre of the pitch – winning 4 interceptions and 9 recoveries.

OUT OF POSSESSION
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While the 25-year-old was Forge’s standout player across the two legs, it’s also not as though he was able to stop Cruz’s ‘number ten’ stand-in – Romulo Otero – who strutted around the pitch in both games with swagger and sophistication. If the second leg exposed any area for improvement in Jonsson’s game, it would be the need to recognize moments where he’s not going to win the ball, and to delay the attacker rather than diving in. By lunging at the ball on this particular occasion, he allowed Otero a swift turn and a breakaway, accompanied by an Azul attack that could have easily resulted in a goal.

Without interfering with his bullish style of play, if Achinioti Jonsson can develop a greater recognition for moments when to dive in, as opposed to when to hold his position or delay the attack, he will easily be of the level of an MLS starter in no time.

From an individual perspective, Dominic Samuel was another standout, helping Achinioti Jonsson organize and coordinate their 4-5-1 to 4-1-4-1 defensive structures. Cruz wanted to play long at nearly every opportunity, and Forge’s high line was often key in stopping those attempts.

Here Charly Rodriguez has enough time to get his head up and see the space to thread a ball in between Jonsson and Samuel. Ivan Morales positions himself on the blindside of Samuel, but the Forge man knows he’s there and has a good enough body shape to react and thwart the attack. Hitting long passes over the top was a clear strategy from Cruz Azul, as we suggested it should be, and Forge dealt with many of the 53 long passes expertly well. The problem was more in stopping them from occurring in the first place, but Smyrniotis could have designed his tactics to intentionally allow these passes.

With Terran Campbell applying next to no pressure to the centre-backs, he invited these kind of passes to be played over and over again from deep. Then it was up to Cruz’s attackers to time their run into space against Forge’s high line. On this occasion, Angel Romero strayed just off-side.

But by the sheer number of long passes completed, it’s unsurprising that Smyrniotis’ side weren’t able to fully halt Cruz’s attempts. The first goal, scored from a set-piece, saw Angel Romero with a free chance in front of goal. His initial marker found himself too close to the winger, meaning that when Romero broke free, he didn’t stand a chance of recovering.

Cruz’s third goal also arrived after a set-piece, this time off a second ball situation. In this moment, Forge’s defense pushed up to hold Cruz’s attackers off-side and condense space. That all sounds good, until you see that every single one of them had eyes for the ball, rather than the man running back into the box – Juan Escobar.

As the closest to the player, Terran Campbell in particular needed to have eyes for the danger around him, especially when Escobar was the only Cruz player likely to receive the pass.

While Cruz’s second goal of the game wasn’t scored from a long looping pass like the other two, it was scored from a different type of long – a shot from range.

This time Forge’s compactness worked against them, as they left Rafael Baca – Cruz’s most dangerous long-range technician, completely free. Other than exerting himself with more gusto to stop the shot, there was little more Alessandro Hojabrpour and Forge could do to stop the situation from unfolding from here. Had they been able to construct their 4-1-4-1 to 4-5-1 defensive low-block shape, it’s unlikely that Baca would have been afforded this type of room. Then once out of shape, you could ask Terran Campbell to track back and play his part, but by doing so you take away the threat he could provide on the counter. It’s a difficult balancing act, and one that Forge failed to correctly teeter-totter in the moment, conceding again.

This is all to say that Cruz Azul are a borderline world-class team, that easily found ways of exploiting Forge’s lack of a high press, and moments of disorganization in midfield. But their back-four managed the game well throughout, and the signs are still positive that the Hammers will be able to hammer in more clean sheets in matches to come.

IN POSSESSION
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While the Hammers couldn’t walk away with any more than 31% of the possession, they were able to show some bright moments of positivity, particularly in executing passes and finding those gaps we spoke about last match. From a brilliant two minute spell where they ramped up their intensity and swift passing, they even scored their first goal in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Some of Forge’s positive moments came through centre-backs taking matters into their own hands and breaking lines of pressure on the dribble. With Hojabrpour running the other way, Metusala recognized the space to carry the ball forward, which created a disconnect in Cruz’s midfield, as Baca stepped out to stop him.

Within seconds, those disconnects created space for Forge’s right-back – Aboubacar Sissoko – to receive in between the lines.

With Sissoko in space and now able to isolate Cruz’s left-back 2v1, Borges found himself with acres of room to expand the width, and deliver a cross toward the penalty spot for Terran Campbell. Instead, it fell to David Choiniere, who cut back onto his right foot and scored seconds later.

Again, this started from Metusala’s willingness to drive forward, where he was able to attract pressure away from Forge’s danger men higher up the pitch. Dominic Samuel has the quality to do the same, and Forge should be looking for moments where can they take advantage of their centre-backs’ carrying power in future matches.

With Jonsson positioning himself in between the centre-backs in build-up moments, the room for this is even greater, with the balance of the team still in-tact if one goes on an adventure.

Also positively from a Forge perspective, the execution of passes in between the gaps of fullback and centre-back saw an improvement from the first leg. The windy Hamilton conditions could have played their part in these passes failing to deliver in the first leg, but this was Forge’s hardest hurdle in hurting Cruz last time out. Bekker’s passing range was pivotal to the Hamilton club’s brief moments of possession, and this time the wingers positioned themselves higher up the pitch to better handle transitions.

Overall, Forge can be proud of the way they performed, even if it looks like they got blown out of the water across the two legs. The squad is ridden with talent in every position, and when the CANPL starts up in April, Forge will be in poll position to continue their dominance.

CRUZ AZUL – 4-2-3-1

Ahead of their upcoming match this weekend against Santos Laguna, Cruz Azul were expected to rest several of their stars again, just as they did in the first leg. But now going into that match, Juan Reynoso must have a selection headache on his hands (or his head), with so many understudies performing remarkably well across the two legs.

La Máquina set up in their typical 4-2-3-1 formation, with Angel Romero entering the frame for Christian Tabo, and Adrian Aldrete stealing back his spot from Alejandro Mayorga. With ballers like Juan Escobar and Rafael Baca also restored to the lineup, Cruz had even more of the possession and control in leg two (69%).

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While we’ve already highlighted much of what Cruz looked to accomplish through their possession – including their fruitful long-passes, the biggest difference of all between the two teams was in Cruz’s precise movement and rotation. Luis Mendoza and Angel Romero were particularly impressive on the day – as much for their incessant movement into central areas as their attacking quality shown further up the pitch.

Look no further than this example, where Romero, as the left winger in the team, has come all the way across to the far right to receive the ball in the half-space. This kind of rotation and movement can be nearly impossible to track for an opposition defense, and creates overloads in specific areas of the field, as you can see in the image shown.

But moments later, Romero’s explosiveness is exemplified when he bursts up the field to find a gap over on the left side – in between Metusala (CB) and Sissoko (RB).

Notice how in this image Cruz’s right-back – Joaquin Martinez – has also shifted across into a dangerous passing position over on the right, with none of Forge’s midfield three adequately covering any dangerous passing lanes. With everything just that much more precise in movement and passing, Cruz dominated spells like this, where they switched from short passing brilliance to dropping a long pass on a dime.

Beyond just his two assists, Luis Mendoza’s movement was key to unlocking and undoing Forge’s defensive structures. Like Rivero in the first leg, Mendoza was a magnet to the ball, constantly coming close wherever La Máquina roamed. The tricky wide man adopted this kind of half-space position several times during circulation stages, pushing Rafael Baca and Joaquin Martinez into advanced positions in his stead.

Through these kinds of positional rotations, specifically guided towards overloading wide areas, Cruz were able to create the opportunities they wanted to spread the ball over the top and go 1v1 against Forge’s centre-backs.

But again, in other moments they also had to do very little, with Terran Campbell at walking pace and applying no real pressure to the back-line.

Over-exerting one’s self to pressure is rarely a good thing for the context of an entire match, but Campbell could have pressed with more ferocity in the opening stages of the game – where Cruz were arguably their most dominant.

In fact, the opening stages of the game were what allowed Cruz to maintain their dominance throughout the 90 minutes, going into cruise control (or Cruz control) in the second half. Cruz can walk away from the two legs as incredibly happy campers, knowing they strutted their way to victory twice in a row – dominating both matches.

CONCLUSION

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Forge will be disappointed not to advance to the second round of the CONCACAF Champions League, but they can still hold their heads high knowing that they came up against one of the fiercest opposition teams around. With a vast array of talent in the team, Forge are going to be extraordinarily difficult to beat when the time comes for the CANPL to kick off. They should continue to work on creating and taking advantage of moments where their centre-backs can carry the ball out from the back, and their defensive organization in midfield when players are drawn out of position. Cruz on the other hand have a long way to go before the Clausura season comes to a close, but the signs are certainly positive for their quest to claim another title. With so many extraordinary individual performances from the two legs against Forge, Juan Reynoso has a selection headache moving into his next few matches in the league. Forge meanwhile can begin their preparations for the season ahead, full of positivity for what might be to come.


So there it is! An analysis of the second-leg between Forge and Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League. Be sure to check out our analysis of the first leg, more Match Analyses, and more CANPL related articles. Also be sure to follow on social media @mastermindsite, to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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