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Assessing The 90: Monumental Comeback Effort Falls Just Short
After being thoroughly outplayed through 75 minutes, Hartford Athletic miraculously scored three goals in eight minutes on Wednesday, but it was not enough to steal a result.
For 75 minutes on Wednesday, Hartford Athletic were completely outplayed, disjointed and looked lost.
Down 3-0 and seemingly destined for what would have been a third consecutive shutout, it seemed the Green and Blue were a sinking ship inching ever closer to rock bottom, falling victim to the same problems that have cost them points all season. However, the final 15 minutes saw the hosts do the impossible, miraculously pulling three goals back to tie the game, fueled by a complete offensive shift by head coach Omid Namazi.
Despite the heroic effort, one unlike anything we have seen from Hartford all season, it was not enough to come away with a result, as the Green and Blue dropped their third straight in a 4-3 thriller at Trinity Health Stadium.
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A number of changes from Saturday’s 3-0 loss in Miami outlined Namzi’s starting XI, the most notable of which was the inclusion of Niall Logue in the backline. Replacing Modesto Méndez, who came out of the Miami game in the second half with a concussion, the Irishman’s start was his first since July 9, and came after he had been left out of the 18 in the previous five games for what Namazi later described as “personal reasons.”
Playing in the usual 5-3-2, Connor McGlynn and Triston Hodge joined Logue at center back. Edgardo Rito (right) and Matthew Sheldon (left) occupied the wingback roles, with Sheldon making a return to the XI after seeing action off the bench in the previous three games.
Elsewhere, the three-man midfield alignment saw Beverly Makangila make his third start of the season, joined alongside Andre Lewis and Luke Merrill, who was pushed up from his usual wingback position. Finally, Prince Saydee led the line in the attack alongside Elvis Amoh, who made his first start in three games after picking up a minor injury.
Pittsburgh dominated possession early on, edging the hosts 52-48 in the opening 12 minutes and creating keeping the Hartford defense on their feet. In an opening quarter hour that felt eerily similar to Hartford’s last pair of losses, they would once again crack just 14 minutes in, conceding inside the opening 20 minutes for the fourth straight game. It came when Marc Ybarra’s shot from close range took a pair of deflections before nailing the far post, where Albert Dikwa, who nearly miscontrolled the rebound with his head, was in the right place to tuck the ball away from point-blank distance.
The visitors did not take their foot off of the gas pedal from there and would go on to double their lead just four minutes later. After Langston Blackstock evaded a sliding Connor McGlynn outside the box, his cross found the head of Dikwa, whose effort nailed the right post. Fortunately for the forward, the rebound fell to his unmarked feet in open space from close range, and he calmly slotted the second chance home to complete his brace and make it 2-0.
Firmly in cruise control, the Pittsburgh press completely shut Hartford down in the first half, with the exception of a pair of shots on goal. The best chance of the half for the Green and Blue in a spell otherwise entirely dominated by the Riverhounds came in the 24th minute, when Elvis Amoh took off down the left flank, losing his man before chipping the ball over the onrushing Jahmali Waite and towards the empty net.
Unfortunately for Amoh, A Pittsburgh defender was able to sprint back in time, sweeping the ball off the line and saving the Riverhounds from what would have been a certain goal. The effort was one of only a pair of shots to find the frame in the opening 45 minutes as the hosts went into the break down by two.
Despite the momentum, the conclusion of the first 45 minutes did not come without drama for Hartford, who felt they had a strong case for a penalty in the 40th minute when Beverly Makangila’s shot struck the outstretched arm of Arturo Ordoñez on the edge of the area. While the replays certainly seemed to indicate that the defender was in the box, the referee did not agree, awarding Hartford a free kick from just outside the area which was subsequently knocked out for a corner, denying Hartford a golden opportunity to cut the deficit in half before the break.
The opening stages of the second half were more of the same for Pittsburgh, who would strike again just seven minutes in to make it 3-0. Blackstock once again started the play with a cross into the danger area from the right wing, before finding the completely unmarked run of Marc Ybarra, who buried the header from close range to put the game seemingly out of reach with the majority of the second half still to play.
With no immediate answers, facing their third straight shutout and having produced next to nothing on the attack in response to a constricting Pittsburgh press, Hartford seemed well and truly destined for yet another blowout loss. However, amidst a plethora of changes from head coach Omid Namazi late in the second half, Hartford would surge back to life out of nothing with just under 15 minutes to play.
The effort started in the 78th minute, when second-half substitute Juan Pablo Torres delivered received the ball from Connor McGlynn’s short corner, delivering an inch-perfect right-footed service to Matt Sheldon. With his back to goal, Sheldon’s flicked header found the far side netting to pull back what felt like a consolation goal for Hartford, his first in Green and Blue to make it 3-1.
Just three minutes later, another pair of late substitutes would combine to make it a one goal game. Streaking towards the right wing, Antoine Hoppenot was the first to Matt Sheldon’s long ball from the back, battling his way past Ordoñez on the touchline before squaring a ball to Danny Barrera at the top of the 18. The Hartford veteran calmly took a touch before slotting the ball past Waite and into the bottom left corner, his first strike of the year to make it 3-2. Out of thin air, Hartford was suddenly right back in the game.
It would only take a further three minutes for Hartford to pull off the unthinkable, and it was once again Hoppenot who made his presence known off the bench. After a long ball into the box searching for the head of Amoh prompted Waite to venture off his line, the Pittsburgh shot-stopped failed to make a clean connection with the ball, clattering into Amoh’s back hitting the turf well off of his line with the back bouncing dangerously in the box. In the midst of appeals for a foul from both sides, Antoine Hoppenot gained control of the box, maintaining control the ball through traffic before burying a shot into the open goal on the turn to complete a miraculous comeback.
Unfortunately for Hartford, they had just seconds to enjoy the comeback as Pittsburgh came roaring back straight from kickoff. Following the span of three goals in eight minutes, it was the former Hartford himself man that broke Green and Blue hearts.
Second-half substance Juan Carlos Obregón Jr, who scored a penalty vs. Hartford in their previous meeting, found himself on the edge of the box with his back to goal. Taking the ball down off his chest, the forward took a touch around Kaveh Rad on the turn before unleashing a rocket past Rice and into the top corner to re-take the 4-3 lead for Pittsburgh, less than a minute after Hartford’s comeback heroics brought Trinity Health Stadium back to life.
Despite a dramatic final ten minutes, Hartford’s efforts would fall just short as Pittsburgh came out with all three points, and deservedly so. Although Hartford displayed a valiant effort in the final stages, they were completely outplayed for the majority of the game, and major defensive struggles continued to haunt them as the game threatened to get ugly early on.
For 75 minutes, Hartford was unable to break Pittsburgh down, create many chances in the attack, or properly pressure the ball in the box, and as it has done all season, it cost them all three points.
At a minimum, the result does provide Hartford fans with more than the lackluster 3-0 loss to Miami just four days prior — Hartford showed character, fight, and grit completely unlike that of their previous loss. Unfortunately for the Green and Blue, there are still glaring defensive issues that must be addressed before any real progress is made, and they were on full display on Wednesday.
Hartford will continue a busy week with their third consecutive home game on Saturday, set to welcome El Paso Locomotive to Trinity Health Stadium. Until then, this game is yet another tough pill to swallow for a Hartford team that just can’t seem to catch a break this year.