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Hartford Athletic Training Report: Kibato Returns from Injury, Namazi Discusses Team Mentality
Hear from head coach Omid Namazi and Kembo Kibato ahead of Hartford's trip to Tulsa this weekend.
For Hartford Athletic, the 2023 USL Championship season has been turbulent at best, and downright disastrous at worst.
Winless in five straight and with a midseason coaching change well in the rearview mirror, Omid Namazi’s side are now set to hit the road for the first of three straight games on Saturday, with any remaining hope of salvaging what is left of their 2023 season in the balance as the season’s halfway point has come and gone.
“There's a lot of improvements to be made still, that’s not gonna happen overnight,” head coach Omid Namazi said. “There’s sort of this culture, this mentality that needs to change.”
With the team set to take on fellow Eastern Conference side FC Tulsa this weekend, the focus during Tuesday’s training session, according to Namazi, was competitiveness. He told The Blazing Musket on Tuesday that the implementation of small-sided games within the squad during training was one meant to increase intensity and competitiveness among the group, something that he says needs to improve if Hartford want to take advantage of what he sees as a valuable opportunity on the road this weekend.
“We feel like these games, especially these next two on the road, are teams that we can beat, games that are winnable,” Namazi said. “The mentality is all about working as hard as we can, making sure that tactically we set them up the right way so that we can give ourselves a chance to win those games.”
‘Winnable’ is a term that has been used to describe a number of matches this season that have not gone Hartford’s way. According to Namazi, who stressed the importance of a much-needed shift in mentality in his introductory press conference as head coach just two weeks ago, such a process is one that is far from instantaneous. However, following two more losses since his introduction on the touchline, he admitted that time is ticking for the Green and Blue to find their groove.
“We have had winnable games before, but I’m not sure if the mentality was there, so we haven’t been able to take advantage of those games,” Namazi said. “These two games, we have to do it. There’s no turning back, there’s no tomorrow.”
On the positive side, Saturday's 2-0 loss to San Diego Loyal SC saw the return of Toronto FC Academy product Kembo Kibato, who was sidelined with a serious foot injury during the club’s home opener on March 25. He came on late in the second half and saw just over 20 minutes of action.
“It feels amazing,” Kibato said. “This is the first time I’ve had a big injury like this, so it’s been tough to be out. I’m just happy to be back doing what I love…That [Saturday] was my first time kind of getting game minutes, I felt good, I felt good on the weekend so I’m hoping I can just keep progressing like that, and I don’t think it will be too long until I’m fully fit. I feel good.”
Kibato’s return comes just in time for a meeting with his former club in FC Tulsa, where he spent the previous two seasons before making the move to Hartford ahead of the 2023 campaign.
“[He brings] a lot of energy, we’ve missed his energy,” Namazi said. “I’m not sure if he’s quite 100% fit yet…it’s gonna take him a little bit of that game fitness, that game sharpness. Hopefully we start getting him into games little by little, he got a little bit of time in the last game, he’ll get more time in Tulsa, and we build his fitness that way. Hopefully in a couple games he’s ready to go 100%.”
Kickoff from ONEOK Field on Saturday is set for 9 p.m. ET on WCTX MyTV9 and ESPN+.