Assessing the 90: Hartford Athletic Battle to First Home Win of 2023
The rain and wind pounded Trinity Health Stadium on Saturday, but that did not stop the Green and Blue from earning their first shutout of 2023 in front of the Hartford faithful.
After 10 games, six losses, four trips to different time zones and multiple injuries capped off a frustrating start to the season, Hartford Athletic finally have their first win at home in 2023.
The win was their second of the USL Championship season, and their first shutout of the year. It came in a 2-0 win over Loudoun United on Saturday night.
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Tab Ramos made two changes in the starting XI ahead of the Eastern Conference matchup, bringing in Danny Barrera in place of Jeciel Cedeño in the midfield, and Robin Lapert in place of Kaveh Rad in the back line. Both players saw action off the bench in Pheonix. Kyle Edwards also found his way into the starting XI for the second consecutive week after notching the lone goal in Hartford’s 3-1 loss last week.
The 18-man squad was also highlighted by the return of Elvis Amoh, who made the bench for the first time since being sidelined with a thigh injury in early April. He would see action in the second half, finding the back of the net from the penalty spot for Hartford’s second goal just 10 minutes after coming on.
Loudoun were the ones who came out on the attack early, pinning Hartford in the defensive end in the opening 10 minutes. Hartford conceded three corners in that time, keeping Richard Sánchez and the defense on their feet.
Hartford saw their first glimpse at the attack in the ninth minute, as Antoine Hoppenot’s cross from the left wing drifted dangerously goalward and was pushed over the bar by Hugo Fauroux.
The resulting corner saw Loudoun’s Houssou Londru pick up an early yellow after his extended elbow knocked Tristan Hodge in the head just outside the box. Barrera’s subsequent free kick hit the wall and fell comfortably into Fauraux’s hands in Hartford’s first real look at goal of the game.
As the rain continued to pour down, both sides had trouble controlling the ball across the slick turf. Hartford was able to string together attacking possession through the early stages, but it ultimately amounted to nothing as the final pass continually escaped them in the wind and rain.
Hartford’s best chance of the opening stages came in the 20th from Torres’s short corner. The ball eventually found the feet of Connor McGlynn at the top of the box with space, whose shot was blocked off the back of his own teammate in Niall Logue. The follow-up sequence saw Edwards lay the ball off the Logue inside the 18, whose close-range shot flew well north of the crossbar.
The Green and Blue would end up finding the breakthrough just minutes later, as Kyle Edwards came racing into the box in the 23rd minute. His cross across the face of goal found the feet of Juan Pablo Torres, who redirected the ball into the open net from close range for his first goal in a Hartford jersey. After almost 230 minutes of USL Championship soccer play at Trinity Health Stadium in 2023, Hartford finally had their first lead at home.
Both teams would continue to knock the ball back and forth as a sloppy, rainy, and windy first half came to a close, but neither side could find anything in the way of clear goalscoring opportunities through the final 25 minutes of the half. Despite possessing only 38% of the ball in what was otherwise a fairly even first half, Torres’s 23rd-minute goal was all that separated the two sides going into the break.
Coming out of halftime, Ramos made another defensive switch. Kaveh Rad, who had been the starter through last week’s game in Pheonix, came in to replace Robin Lapert for the final 45 minutes as a precautionary switch due to a slight injury picked up by Lapert in the first half.
The second half proved to be more of the same, with neither side able to craft any clear looks at goal through the downpour. The highlight of the half for Hartford came in the 59th minute when Elvis Amoh officially made his return to the field for the first time since early April. He checked in for Prince Saydee with a half-hour to play, who had gone down with a slight knock just minutes prior.
Kyle Edwards eventually had one of the better chances of the half just one minute later, slamming a close-range shot from the left side of the box well wide of Fauraux’s goal. His effort was the only shot of the half for either side up to that point.
Despite a clear lack of chances, Hartford would eventually find their insurance goal in the 67th minute. Edwards’ run would be cut short as he was chopped down in the box by and onrushing Fauraux, and Amoh slotted home the resulting spot kick to double the lead with his first goal since making his return to the field just 10 minutes prior. Amoh would come close to a second goal in the 78th minute, redirecting a cross goalward before it was eventually cleared at the near post.
Loudoun came close to cutting the deficit in half with just over 10 minutes to play, as Tommy Williamson’s low-driven strike into the bottom right corner forced a quick save from Sánchez, who had not truly been tested up to that point in the second half.
Loudoun continued to keep the game close in the dying minutes, peppering the Hartford defense with multiple dangerous chances. However, for the first time in 2023, Hatford’s defensive line was up to the task, seeing out their first clean sheet of 2023 in a 2-0 win.
The win represents a collective sigh of relief for Hartford fans, who finally saw their team put together a complete 90-minute performance for the first time this season to see out the win. Even in their only other win of the season, a 2-1 road victory in Oakland, the second half saw Hartford completely outplayed and dominated in the second half.
For a defense that has given up more than 50% of their goals in the second half, including two stoppage-time winners, the clean sheet will provide a much-needed confidence boost ahead of one of their toughest tests of the season next week. That test comes against Sacramento Republic FC, who currently sit top of the USL Championship with 24 points and only one loss on the year. Hartford are set to host Sacramento on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
But for now, Ramos and his squad can finally celebrate a hard-fought win at home.