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Hartford Athletic Fall to Monterey Bay FC in 2023 Season Opener
Hartford Athletic started the 2023 USL Championship season with a bang on Saturday, going out on the wrong end of an eight-goal thriller
It was an eventful Saturday evening for Hartford Athletic, who kicked off their 2023 USL Championship season with a 5-3 loss to Monterey Bay FC.
Hartford’s starting XI featured eight new signings. Richard Sanchéz got the nod between the sticks, while 2022 regulars Danny Barrera, Tulu, and Connor Mglynn were left on the bench for the opening fixture.
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Hartford were on the back foot early on, as it only took a minute and a half for the home side to find the opening goal. A defensive miscue saw the ball deflect through two defenders to former Hartford Athletic man Alex Dixon, who slid the ball past Sanchéz from close range to give Monterey an early lead.
Not to be deterred, Hartford began to find their way into the game in the opening 20 minutes. Eventually, Prince Saydee got on the end of an Andre Lewis pass through the middle. Saydee took a touch past the onrushing goalkeeper at the top of the box and slotted it into the empty net, tying the game at one in the 23rd minute.
It wouldn’t take long for Monterey to re-establish its advantage. Just 16 minutes later, it was once again Dixon who found himself on the end of a cross, sending a header into the lower right corner of Sanchéz’s net for his second goal of the game.
Monterey’s second lead of the night would last a mere two minutes, as Hartford surged down the other end and equalized in the 41st minute. Two new signings would link up for Hartford, as Niall Logue sent a header across the face of goal off of a set piece, and Kaveh Rad slammed home the equalizer from point-blank range to knot the game at two apiece.
The flurry of goals did not stop there, though. Just three minutes after the equalizer, Sanchéz chopped down Sam Gleadle in the box, allowing Alex Dixon to step up and convert the spot kick to complete the first-half hat trick and the first hat trick in Monterey FC history.
The home side was not done yet, as things went from bad to worse for Hartford in first-half stoppage time. Just seconds after the 45-minute mark, Kaveh Rad would find the back of the net for the second time on the night, but on the wrong end. His attempted clearance off of Chase Boone’s cross would find its way past Sanchéz and into the Hartford goal, giving Monterey a 4-2 advantage going into the half.
Coming out of one of the highest-scoring first halves in recent memory for Hartford, it was Monterey who would deliver the killer blow in the 67th minute. A perfectly-executed counter attack saw a ball played into the feet of Walmer Martinez, another former Hartford player, in the box. Martinez squared the call across the face of goal to James Murphy, who slotted the ball past Sanchéz to give the Crisp and Kelp a commanding three-goal lead with just over 20 minutes to play.
Despite the deficit, Hartford was still able to get on the attack in the closing stages. Danny Barrera picked up his first assist of the season off the bench after leading Hartford in assists last year, swinging in a corner in the 76th minute. Prince Saydee snuck a header past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net to complete his brace, but it was too little too late as the Green and Blue fell to a 5-3 loss in their season opener.
Ultimately, it was defensive mistakes that plagued Hartford throughout the night. From a missed clearance, to a penalty, to an own goal, Hartford could not seem to connect in the back, making costly errors at crucial points that led to goals.
Although they showed promise on the attack, it was evident that the majority of this Hartford team had never played a match together before this year. Given time to develop chemistry as a team and gain experience playing together, this Hartford attack will be fun to watch. Going out on the road and scoring three goals is a positive to take no matter the result, and Hartford showed glimpses of their potential in the final third throughout the night. They looked strong on set pieces, and well-constructed counter-attacks often fell short of the fishing pass in the final third.
Sure up the defense, and you’ve got yourself a team. Scoring three goals on the road and losing makes it pretty clear where the main issues are.
Tab Ramos certainly has the tools to do so, with the offseason acquisition of experienced USL defenders such as Matt Sheldon, Tristan Hodge, Kaveh Rad, and Nail Logue at his disposal. It will be a matter of experimenting and finding what partnerships and systems work defensively for Hartford going forward. We saw Ramos begin to play around with defensive substitutions late in the game, bringing on Luke Merill and Tulu in place of Sheldon and Logue.
Hartford will hit the road once again next week, traveling to Colorado to take on the Colorado Springs Switchbacks on Saturday before heading back to Connecticut for their home opener on March 25th.