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Assessing The 90: Disastrous Final Minutes Costs 10-Man Hartford Once Again
The Green and Blue were just minutes way from holding on to what would have been their biggest win of the season on Saturday.
With just four minutes to play against Charleston Battery at home on Saturday, Hartford Athletic found themselves up 3-2 leaders in what would have been a statement win against the second-place side, their biggest of the season.
Ultimately though, a familiar fate would doom the home side as they once again gave up a pair of late goals that turned the game on its head and saw them walk away empty-handed for the second consecutive game at home, losing 4-3.
The initial XI saw Tab Ramos make a major defensive system switch after the midweek loss, playing three in the back, presumably to play to the strength of newly-aquired All-USL First Teamer Edgardo Rito who made his second start for Hartford on the right. The change saw Niall Logue and Luke Merrill benched as Robin Lapert returned to the starting XI, and Matt Sheldon continued to show his versatility slotting into the left wingback role.
In the attack, Elvis Amoh made his return to the lineup after returning from a thigh injury off the bench in the final 15 minutes of Wednesday’s loss. He wore the armband for the first time in place of Logue, and started alongside Andre Lewis on the attack as Prince Saydee was benched.
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Hartford once again got on the attack early in this one, working the press to test the Charleston defense as early as two minutes in. After Juan Pablo Torres won back the ball for Hartford in the defensive end, his outside of the foot curling pass found the feet of Kyle Edwards, who’s ambitious attempt to lob the keeper from outside the box flew just over the bar in the second minute.
Edwards would get another chance just moments later, finding his way in behind after controlling Antoine Hoppenot’s pass but failing to keep the low shot on frame from inside the 18.
Despite allowing Charleston 60% of the ball through the opening 20 minutes, it was Hartford who got the better of the attacking chances as they remained defensively compact and continued press Charleston. The best chance of the early stages came in the 16th minute when Antoine Hoppenot slid a ball through to Kyle Edwards, who found himself in behind with only the keeper to beat from inside the box. Instead of taking the shot himself, he attempted to square the ball across the face to a wide-open Elvis Amoh, who called back for being in an offsides position, wasting a golden opportunity to take the lead.
Hartford eventually found the breakthrough in the 31st minute as Antoine Hoppenot came tearing down the left wing, sending a cross into the feet of Kyle Edwards in the box. With his back to goal, the forward tapped the ball to Andre Lewis at the top of the 18, who slammed a shot off the right post and into the back of the net to make It 1-0.
Joe Rice was called into action for the first time with just five minutes left in the half, coming up with a sharp double save from close range to preserve the lead for the Green and Blue.
Charleston did eventually find their equalizer with just two minutes to play in the first half, when Nick Markanich curled home a free kick off the crossbar from just outside the 18. However, not to be deterred, Hartford would strike back just minutes later.
In what was ultimately the last action of the half, Edgardo Rito would come within inches of his first Hartford goal as he redirected Antoine Hoppenot’s inch-perfect cross against the crossbar and onto the goal line from close range. Luckily for Hartford, Edwards was in the right place in the right time as he crashed the box to clean up the rebound with a point-blank header to give Hartford the 2-1 lead going into the break.
With the momentum on their side, things would get a lot harder for Hartford in the opening five minutes of the half would as Antoine Hoppenot, who played an instrumental role in the buildup of both goals, was shown a second yellow for a late foul in the midfield. Down a man, Tab Ramos quickly made a defensive substitution, bringing on Luke Merrill for Elvis Amoh, and Hartford were forced to play the last 40 minutes with 10.
That did not seem to bother them, though, as they kept up the attacking pressure to win a penalty in the 54th minute. Receiving the ball from Andre Lewis, Kyle Edwards laid the ball off to Luke Merrill in the box, who was taken down and subsequently awarded the spot kick. Kyle Edwards stepped up and confidently buried the penalty to the right, sending Trey Muse the wrong way for his second of the night to give Hartford a two-goal cushion with 30 minutes to play.
Despite the setback, Charleston continued to knock on the door, and they’d eventually make a game of it in the 63rd minute when Markanich struck again to make it 3-2. Unable to clear the in-swinging corner, Hartford allowed Charleston to recycle the chance when Artutro Rodriguez dribbled into the box and found the feet of Donte Polvara at the top of the box, who laid it off to Markanich in open space. The forward rocketed to left-footed finish into the roof of the net, beating Joe Rice for his second of the night to cut the deficit in half.
Back down to a one goal lead with 10 men, Hartford faced an uphill battle in keeping out a Charleston side who ultimately outshot them 21-5 with 72% of the possession and connected over 300 more passes the Hartford (562-222) through 90 minutes. Despite doing so for the next 23 minutes, they ultimately fell to an all-too-familiar fate with just three minutes of regulation remaining, conceding two in the space of three minutes to go down 4-3 after holding the lead for the vast majority of the game.
First, it was Rodriguez who found the ball in wide open space on the right flank, nailing the far post with a looping cross that came inches away from finding the side netting itself before Derek Dodson slammed home the rebound from close range to knot the game at three in the 87th minute.
Things would go from bad to worse for Hartford in the 90th minute when a goal-of-the-year contender from Arthur Paterson powered its way in off the left post from distance to give the Battery all three points with a 4-3 win.
Ultimately, the same issues persisted for Hartford that have been present all season - poor set piece defending and dropping points after conceding goals late. It was a stoppage-time free kick goal that gave Charleston all three points last time the two sides met in April, and the outcome was no different this time around for many of the same reasons. For a team who faced two ‘must-win’ situations at home in the space of a week, conceding seven goals — two of which were in the final ten minutes — might be the nail in the coffin in a disastrous season for a team who just cannot seem to sort out their defensive issues.
Hartford continues to sit in dead last in the Eastern Conference on ten points and just two wins, six points out of a playoff spot with the final match of their June home stand set for next Saturday, where they will face Indy Eleven for the second time in three weeks.
Kickoff from Trinity Health Stadium is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN+ and WCTX MyTV9.