David Choiniere has made a habit of scoring in the Scotiabank CONCACAF League.
And Forge FC hopes the 23-year-old winger from Saint-Alexandre, Que., can rise to the occasion again Tuesday when the Canadian Premier League champions face Panama’s Tauro FC in round-of-16 play.
The 22-team CONCACAF League is a feeder tournament, sending six clubs to the 2021 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League. Forge will also have a chance to qualify for the main CONCACAF club competition when it takes on Toronto FC in the final of the Canadian Championship, a showdown yet to be scheduled due to the global pandemic.
Choiniere scored the stoppage-time winner in Forge’s 2-1 preliminary-round win over visiting Antigua GFC in August 2019. Forge ended up winning the tie 2-1 on aggregate after a scoreless draw in Guatemala.
After Forge downed Honduras’ Olimpia 1-0 in the opening leg of the subsequent round-of-16 tie, Choiniere scored Forge’s lone goal in a 4-1 loss in San Pedro Sula.
And Choiniere accounted for Forge’s opening goal in this year’s competition, in a 2-1 preliminary-round win over El Salvador’s CD Munipal Limeno in San Salvador, thanks to a marvellous through ball from Mo Babouli.
The Hamilton team left directly for Panama City from San Salvador and has been training there ever since.
No stranger to big goals, Choiniere also scored the 95th-minute winner in the second leg of the 2019 CPL final against Cavalry FC.
Having spent six weeks in the Island Games bubble in Charlottetown, trained for more than a month at home and now together in Central America, the Forge squad is a tight unit.
“We have a good group of guys. We get along super well,” said Choiniere. “We know when to be tough with each other, when some guys need to be alone. When you spend six weeks with the same people, it’s not easy but I think we know each other pretty well. We live together super-well. That’s one of our big strengths.”
Forge will be without the suspended Johnny Grant but Kwame Awuah and Chris Nanco return from suspension and injury, respectively.
”Tauro’s a quality team,” said Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis. “”They’re a team that’s got a lot of experience playing in this competition. They’ve had success in this competition. They’re a team that’s two weeks into their season and, obviously, with friendly matches coming before that.
“They’re a dynamic team, a very tough team to break down. So we look forward to a very big challenge (Tuesday) here in Panama.”
Forge will return home Wednesday after more than two weeks in Central America.
The pandemic has taken its toll on the CONCACAF League, delaying play for months. Once play started, several matches were postponed due to positive tests, and Belize’s Verdes FC eventually dropped out.
CONCACAF subsequently decided to make the entire competition single-leg matches, rather than the two-legged ties originally planned from the quarterfinals on.
The four quarterfinal winners will now qualify directly for the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League. The four losing quarterfinalists will compete in single-leg play-in games, with the two winners moving on.
Choiniere joined Forge in March 2019, turning down a new contract offer from Montreal and betting on himself after growing up in the Impact ranks.
“I was at a point in my career where I wanted to play,” he explained.
Choiniere joined the Impact academy in 2011, becoming the first player to successfully make the jump from FC Montreal (the MLS club’s former reserve side) to the first team.
He made his MLS debut against New England in October 2016 but only made four more appearances over the next two seasons. An ankle injury suffered in training that eventually required surgery curtailed his playing time in 2017 and ‘18.
“The two toughest years probably of my career,” he said. “It kept me from enjoying the game because my ankle was hurting so much.”
Still, he says he learned a lot from the likes of Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti in training. And his ankle now is pain-free.
“Now I’m in a good place. Everything’s fine,” he said.
Forge has made good use of him. He played in 23 games in all competitions during the inaugural 2019 CPL season with four goals and four assists. This year, in a truncated schedule due to the pandemic, he has played 12 games with two goals and one assist.
“I’m really happy where I am… I think I’ve stepped up my game since joining the team,” said Choiniere, who was called up to a Canadian senior camp in 2017 but has yet to see action for the national team.
He was included in Canada’s provisional roster for the pandemic-delayed CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Games.
“If I get the call, I’ll be ready,” he said.
Choiniere’s younger brother Mathieu is part of the Impact first team, although the 21-year-old has been sidelined by an ankle injury.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press