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Hartford Athletic Look to Stop "Gifting Goals" Ahead of Vital Home Stretch
"This is probably the most important stretch of the whole season for us...It's a must-win three games at home." - Danny Barrera
According to team captain Danny Barrera, the reason Hartford Athletic find themselves dead last in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference has not always been due to the competition.
Their own worst enemy, he said after training on Wednesday, has been themselves.
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“I think it’s been just the theme of this year, where we’ve been gifting goals,” Barrera said. “I think we counted like 13, 14 goals that we’ve literally gifted to the other team. That was the case in Pittsburgh.”
Following their weather-delayed 2-0 loss in Pittsburgh, their first of two meetings in as many weeks, Hartford head coach Omid Namazi shared the same sentiment.
“Pittsburgh is a different level in terms of how they pressure the ball…[but] I didn’t feel like they were gonna hurt us,” Namazi said. “If you look look at the two goals that they scored, they were basically gifts that we gave them. Not looking past the Miami game, but we have Pittsburgh coming in next Wednesday, and I don’t feel uncomfortable.”
According to Barrera, the team performance was not levels below that of Pittsburgh. The difference, according to both himself and Namazi, came down to a pair of critical mistakes.
“It comes down to individual errors,” Barrera said. “Obviously we can always do better as a team defending, but when we do defend well we can’t allow one individual error to kill us. I think that just comes down to concentration.”
Even after a three-hour weather delay saw the teams kick off just past 10 p.m, Namazi said he did not feel as though the team came out as “flat” as they did against New Mexico one week prior. Hartford even crafted the first opportunity of the game jut four minutes in, but it was one of only four shots that they failed to capitalize on, and it ended up costing them all three points.
“The Pittsburgh game was dissapointing,” Namazi said. “I don’t think we were that bad, but we made a couple of huge mistakes, as it has happened over the season, and it cost us the game. I felt our energy level, especially after the weather delay, and the way we approached the game was pretty good, they were just a little bit better than us.”
Namazi also mentioned that Pittsburgh’s organization on the ball restricted Hartford from playing their preferred style of possession, instead forcing them to resort to long balls under severe pressure, which Pittsburgh were able to handle with ease.
Although slow at times, Barrera insisted that progress was well underway for a Hartford team who have refused to give up on their playoff hopes. Ever since Namazi’s tenure as head coach began, he feels brighter days are ahead for the Green and Blue.
“[There has been] a massive improvement, we’re not giving up 4-5 goals, we’re actually winning games, we’ve won two out of the last four,” Barrera said. “It’s not gonna happen overnight, but it helps that we’re training at a higher level, we’re more organized, guys are bought in. It’s individual errors that cost us.”
Namazi, citing injury setbacks and fitness as a key element to Hartford’s season ever since his introductory press conference as head coach in early July, agreed.
“I think physically we’re in a good place, much better than we were a couple months back, Namazi said. “Injuries have kind of held us back a little bit…we seem a lot healthier and we seem a lot fitter. I’m happy about that, I think the timing is right to pick up some wins here at home.”
Hartford’s resolve will be tested in front of yet another packed house on Saturday night, where they will host fellow Eastern Conference side Miami FC in the first of three straight home games at Trinity Health Stadium. Kickoff between the two sides battling for their payoff lives is set for 7 p.m. on WCTX MyTV9 and ESPN+.