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Assessing The 90: Late Collapse Once Again Dooms Hartford in 3-2 Loss to Birmingham
The Green and Blue put together a solid first half, but were not able to piece together a full 90 minute performance and come away with the win.
On Sunday afternoon, Hartford Athletic found themselves 1-0 up on the road against the Birmingham Legion at halftime. Coming off of a win in their last USL Championship match, it seemed that Hartford may have finally found their form after a disappointing start to the season — but it was not to be.
Once again, a late collapse saw Hartford Athletic head home empty-handed, despite trailing for only two minutes in a back-and-fourth game. Tab Ramos had called for his side to be more “mature” in seeing out leads after a narrow 2-1 win in Oakland just two weeks ago, but his side could not manage to do so this time around.
After a relatively slow start for both sides, the visitors took the lead late in the first half through Jeciel Cedeño’s second USL Championship goal in as many games, capping off a slew of dangerous opportunities that saw the Green and Blue outshoot the Legion 10-5.
“We’re moving the ball very well,” Ramos said in a halftime interview. “We certainly can be up a few more [goals].”
Hartford were certainly dangerous in the first half. Prince Saydee continued to be a nuisance to defenders around the USL, most notably hitting the post with a curling free kick inside 30 minutes before seeing his close range effort save by Trevor Spangenburg late in first-half stoppage time. Andre Lewis also looked active in his return to the starting XI, nailing the crossbar from outside the box just minutes after Hartford took the lead.
All in all, it was yet another solid first-half showing for Tab Ramos and his squad that gave fans reason to be excited about the direction the season may be turning.
That excitement, however, proved to be premature. The second half has continued to be the killer for Hartford throughout the season, who have conceded eight of their 15 goals in the final 45, with two of those goals coming in second-half stoppage time.
Similar to the game against Oakland, Birmingham would come out flying in the second half, immediately forcing Hartford on the back foot. They outshot the visitors 13-4 after the break, with what felt like an inevitable equalizer eventually finding the back of the net in the 65th minute.
No surprise here — it was a set piece. Having struggled defending dead ball situations in the past, Hartford were unable to keep the ball out of the net as Enzo Martinez connected off of Prosper Kasim’s corner to make it 1-1.
However, Hartford were not done just yet. Just minutes after going behind after an onslaught of attacking pressure, Prince Saydee split the Birmingham defensive line with a well-weighted ball to the feet of second-half substitute Kyle Edwards. The forward took off down the left side, eventually slotting a composed finish into the bottom left corner to re-take the lead for Hartford with a goal that seemed largely against the run of play.
Yes, Hartford had fallen into some of their old second-half habits, but they found a way to score and take the lead: a surefire improvement from last time out. Right?
Not so fast.
Just under 10 minutes later, Hartford’s defense would once again be pulled apart as Kasim and Martinez connected for a second time — Kasim’s low cross played across just escaped the sliding feet of Connor McGlynn, and Martinez tapped it in to level the game at two.
Things would continue to go from bad to worse for the visitors in stoppage time. It was another corner kick — this time swung in by Martinez. Alex Crognale rose above everyone in the box to get his head on it, finding the back of the net to break Hartford hearts and send them home empty-handed.
The loss would be the second time this season that Hartford both led and lost in stoppage time — by the same scoreline. A win would’ve propelled Hartford into a playoff place with room to spare and given the Green and Blue their first string of consecutive wins of the season, giving them much-needed momentum going into the summer stretch. Instead, they find themselves stranded in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference on five points, only above last-place Detroit City FC by one point and separated from the last playoff spot by three points.
At times, this Hartford squad has shown flashes of brilliance, showing that they can truly be a contender in the USL playoff picture. However, Tab Ramos needs to figure out how to piece together an entire 90 minutes and quickly, or else this will not be the last late drama that goes against his side this season.
The season is a long and brutal one, and we are not even halfway there yet. Hartford has the pieces, talent and experience to do well, but they simply need to find a way to finish games.
They will have the aid of the home crowd in doing so for the first time in over a month next weekend, as they are set to host Memphis 901 FC on Saturday at 7 p.m. in search of their second league win.