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Hartford Athletic Fall to Birmingham Legion FC in 2023 Home Opener
Hartford Athletic couldn't use the home fans to their advantage on Saturday afternoon, falling 1-0 to Birmingham in their 2023 home opener despite a number of chances.
It was a disappointing rainy afternoon for Hartford Athletic fans today, as Hartford will continue their search for their first win of 2023 following a 1-0 loss against Birmingham Legion FC in their USL Championship home opener.
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It was the home side who came out with the early momentum, enjoying the majority of the possession in the first 20 minutes in their attacking half. Hartford’s best opportunities early on came from a pair of corner kicks inside 10 minutes, but the home side couldn’t take advantage.
It was eventually Birmingham who got on the board first in the 25th minute. Tyler Pasher sent a ball to Gabriel Alves well outside the box, who sent a low-driven shot to the bottom right corner of Richard Sánchez’s goal from almost 25 yards out. The inch-perfect shot skidded along the slick surface and snuck past Richard Sánchez in goal to give the visitors the 1-0 advantage.
Both teams would continue to enjoy positive spells of attacking possession throughout the remainder of the first half, but it was Hartford who saw the best look at goal in the 40th minute. Prince Saydee’s tricky footwork down the right wing took him through the defense and toward the touchline, where he snuck a cross across the face of goal inside the six-yard box. Elvis Amoh was unable to direct his touch toward goal and Legion FC goalkeeper Trevor Spangenberg was able to push the ball out of the danger zone.
Hartford found another chance late in first half stoppage time, once again coming from the corner kick. Antoine Hoppenot’s cross swung into dangerous territory, missing the head of Amoh by inches and sending the teams into the locker room with the visitors in front. It was the 12th cross of the afternoon, and the sixth corner kick for Hartford, but they still couldn’t find the finishing touch.
The final execution would continue to elude Hartford through the second half, despite a number of dangerous opportunities. Saydee and Amoh would continue to get glances at goal in the first ten minutes of the half, but neither could do enough to beat Spangenburg.
The best chance of the game for Hartford would come in the 57th minute when Amoh’s cross would get past Spangenburg and make its way to the feet of Hoppenot in front of a wide-open goal. Sliding towards the ball, Hoppenot was unable to turn the ball in from inside the six-yard box, skying the shot from point-blank range.
“I missed a great chance that Kembo [Kibato] gave me,” Hoppenot said postgame. “Chances like that need to be scored, and that changes games. Goals change games…situations like that are super important, I let the team down today. It’s a very disappointing result.”
Hartford would continue to fight for the equalizer through the final half hour, with the best two chances of the final period coming from a pair of shots from second-half substitute Jeciel Cedeño. His low-driven shot forced a save from Spangenburg, who pushed it into the feet of Hoppenot before recovering quickly to save the follow-up effort.
Then, in the final minute of regulation, Spangenburg would once again come up with a diving save to deny Cedeño’s curling strike from the top of the box. That would prove to be the last chance for Hartford, who fell to their second-ever loss in a home opener.
Despite the goal, Hartford continued to show the defensive discipline that earned them a draw last week in Colorado. Hartford head coach Tab Ramos was pleased with the defensive effort postgame, saying it was a lack of offensive production that cost the Green and Blue three points.
“The reason I was satisfied with the defending today is because we turned the ball over a lot in the middle of the field, we couldn’t keep the ball,” Ramos said. “I think that was our number one issue in the game. Anytime we connected our first pass, our second pass was a turnover, and that puts your defenders on their heels all the time. Considering that they had to deal with so many situations, they did a pretty good job.”
Hartford finished the game with 21 crosses and 14 shots, despite not being able to find the back of the net.
“I’m happy with the way we defend,” Ramos said. “I think that part of the team we’re ok with, but we certainly have to improve in the final third. Today we had 14 shots, but it didn’t feel like we created 14 shots.”
Hartford came into Saturday’s game slightly shorthanded, with Tristan Hodge (Trinidad and Tobago) and Kyle Edwards (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) both receiving call-ups to their respective national teams for this month’s set of Concacaf Nations League fixtures. Hartford was also without Andre Lewis, who went down in the late stages of the draw in Colorado with a head injury and had to be stretchered off the field. Lewis started both games this season for Hartford, playing every minute before the injury. Beverly Makangila and Ash Apollon made their first starts of the year for Hartford in place of the missing men.
“Andre’s loss is a big loss for us, because he had played every minute basically the whole preseason and the first two games,” Ramos said. “Andre doesn’t normally lose the ball, and that’s one of the things we lost [today]. We lost that control in the middle of the field that we’ve been having. Even in the first game when we lost to Monterrey, I thought we controlled that game…and I didn’t have that feeling today.”
Hartford will have a second chance in front of the home fans next Saturday, set for another afternoon kickoff as they welcome in Orange County SC to Trinity Health Stadium at 2 p.m. on WCTX MyTV9 and ESPN+.