Assessing The 90: Hartford Athletic Officially Eliminated From Postseason Contention
Despite two brilliant first-half strikes from Prince Saydee, Hartford let three goals slip in the second half to drop all three points in Memphis on Saturday.
In the space of 20 minutes in the second half of Hartford Athletic’s loss to Memphis 901 FC on Saturday — their 20th of the season — the Green and Blue saw a 2-1 lead transform into a 4-2 deficit.
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It’s the story of the season for a Hartford side set for the worst season in their history — they’ve conceded 19 of their USL Championship-high 64 goals inside the final 15 minutes, having dropped a total of 13 points as a result of goals conceded after the 85th.
It’s a nightmarish statistic, and it matches an equally disappointing season — one that sees Hartford stranded in dead last in the Eastern Conference, sitting on only four wins and 16 points through 28 games. It seemed like only a matter of time before the Green and Blue were finally put out of their misery, as the loss officially ended any remaining glimmer of postseason hopes for Hartford, who became the first Eastern Conference team to be mathematically eliminated.
Perhaps as a last attempt to get something out of the season, Omid Namazi’s starting XI featured a heavily rotated squad on the road. Richard Sánchez returned the starting XI between the sticks, getting two consecutive nods for the first time late May, and only his third in the last 17 matches since losing the starting spot to Joe Rice.
Since returning to the squad at the end of August, Niall Logue got his third start in the heart of the backline, joined alongside Connor McGlynn and Ash Apollon, who made his fourth start (and first string of two consecutive starts) of the season. Edgardo Rito assumed his usual role as the right wingback, while Beverly Makangila started on the left.
Elsewhere, Andre Lewis and Kembo Kibato started in the midfield while a full-strength three-man attack of Antoine Hoppenot (left), Elvis Amoh (central), and Prince Saydee (right) led the line up top.
The night was not a complete throwaway, particularly in the first half. The visitors were the first to find the back of the net, striking inside three minutes when Rito’s well-weighted ball found the feet of Amoh at the top of the box, who slotted home a first-time left-footed finish into the top left corner to give what they thought was an early lead — that is until the offsides flag denied the Ghanian his sixth goal of the year.
Inspired by the quick start, Hartford once again found themselves on the attack just over a minute later, this time through the run of Prince Saydee, whose run took him in behind with only the keeper to beat. After seeing his initial effort saved — and then spilled — Saydee’s left-footed shot from close range into the open net was headed goalward before glancing off the back of a diving Memphis defender to keep the ball out.
Despite the hot start for Hartford, the hosts would eventually grow their way into the game, ultimately opening the scoring from the spot in the 16th minute. Ash Apollon was the guilty party charged with the penalty, after taking down Luiz Fernando on the right side of the box from behind. Bruno Lapa stepped up and sent Sánchez the wrong way, slotting the ball into the bottom left corner to give Memphis the early 1-0 lead.
Not to be deterred, Hartford responded just under 10 minutes later in a move that once again started with Rito down the right side. Finding Saydee at the top of the box, the forward cut back to his right foot and past a defender, opening space for a shot. Taking the ball into the box, he eventually found the gap through traffic and curled a right-footed finish past a diving Andrew Romig and into the right-side netting to knot the match at one, his sixth strike of the year.
An active opening 45 minutes for Saydee would continue in the 32nd minute when he put himself on the receiving end of a giveaway from Romig, who could not find a teammate in an unmarked attempt to play the ball out of the back. Taking the ball onto his favored left foot with acres to roam, Saydee picked out the top left corner with an inch-perfect curler from just outside the box, beating a rooted Romig and giving Hartford the come-from-behind lead — one they eventually took into the locker room.
As has been the case all season, however, Hartford’s fortunes would take a drastic turn for the worse in the second 45. It took the better part of 15 minutes out of the break, but Memphis eventually did find their equalizer just before the hour mark when a pair of second half substitutes combined. It started when Aidan McFadden drove down the right flank with space to run, before eventually sending a low cross into the mixer. Making a run from well outside the 18, a sliding Samuel Careaga got on the end of the cross, poking the ball past Sánchez at the far post to level the match at two apiece.
Things would go from bad to worse for Hartford in the 72nd minute when Fernando matched Saydee’s curling first half effort with a wonder-strike of his own. Taking advantage of a lack of defensive pressure outside the 18, Fernando finessed the left-footed effort into the top corner and past an outstretched Sánchez from an almost identical position to re-take the lead for Memphis for the first time since the early goings of the first half.
The McFadden-Careaga connection nearly paid off a second time just minutes later, when yet another McFadden cross this time found the feet of the goalscorer at the top of the box in the 76th. Once again taking advantage of a lack of defensive pressure, the substitute took the ball of his chest before a powerful volley nailed the crossbar, denying him his second goal of the night.
It did not take long for Memphis to find the insurance goal, however. Just a minute after the crossbar denied the hosts a chance to double their lead, Rodrigo De Castro hit the woodwork once again with a left-footed curling free kick from just outside the box. The free kick wrapped itself around the wall before beating the diving gloves of Sánchez, who could do nothing as the ball this time found its way in off the bar to seal the 4-2 win for Memphis — their second over Hartford this year.
The story was nothing new for Hartford — a semi-positive first half highlighted by a pair of individual moments to remember, followed by a lackluster second-half collapse from a team that just cannot seem to put in a solid 90-minute shift this season.
The result, quite frankly, is hardly a surprise, even with the first-half lead. It’s hard to see much else happening in a season so heavily defined by defensive shortcomings, and now the focus will shift to rebuilding for 2024 through the final six games of the season with the playoffs now out of the picture.
Next up — a second meeting with Detroit City FC on Saturday, this time on the road. Having already outclassed Hartford on their home turf earlier in the year, Detroit will be hungry for another win as they find themselves just one place and two points out of the final playoff spot. With their playoff hopes well and truly in the balance, they will face a Hartford team next week who, other than pride, really have nothing else to play for.