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PREVIEW: Hartford Athletic Host 1st Place Sacramento In Hunt For 2nd Straight Win
The Green and Blue will face one of their toughest tests of the season on Friday, looking to string together consecutive wins for the first time in 2023.
Having battled to their second win of the 2023 USL Championship season last week in a 2-0 win against Loudoun United, Hartford Athletic will continue their home stand on Friday in search of a second-straight win in their first-ever meeting with Sacramento Republic FC.
A winning result would see the Green and Blue earn a second-consecutive result for the first time this season after picking up only a single win through their first nine games, but the momentum will prove difficult to come by against a Sacramento team who sit first in the league on only one loss in 2023.
“We have an opportunity this week,” said Hartford head coach Tab Ramos. “Especially coming off a win and now we play what’s likely the best team in the league, I think it’s a good opportunity for us to start making some noise with this game.”
Despite a relentless deluge of rain that poured onto Trinity Health Stadium last weekend, an otherwise miserable night did not stop Hartford from picking up their first three points at home over Loudoun United. A first goal in Green and Blue for midseason acquisition Juan Pablo Torres paired with a second-half penalty from Elvis Amoh in his first game back from injury lifted Hartford to a 2-0 result, their second win of 2023.
The goal scorers were not the only positives on the night for Hartford. In his third start of the season, Kyle Edwards was also active in the attack. He had the assist on Torres’s goal in the 23rd minute, and was chopped down in the box to draw the penalty in the second half, which Amoh calmly slotted home to confirm the 2-0 victory. The game was the first clean sheet of the season for Richard Sánchez in goal, coming just one week after five-save, Save of the Week performance in Phoenix.
On the other end, Sacramento comes to Hartford on the back of their league-leading seventh win of the season, a 3-1 victory vs. Oakland Roots SC. The action got started early for Sacramento, as Keko opened the scoring in the 12th minute with an inch-perfect left-footed curler that found the far post on it’s way in. He also picked up an assist in the second half as Russell Cicerone’s eighth goal of the year doubled the lead with a powerful effort from outside the box. The performance by Keko was enough to see him named to the USL Championship Team of the Week for Week 11, the eighth Sacramento player to be honored in the best XI through 11 weeks of play. His opening goal also was in contention for Goal of the Week.
Sacramento’s dominance did not end there. Just four minutes after the second goal in the second half, Conor Donavan cut open the Oakland midfield with a pass down the middle that sent Sebastian Herrera in behind the defense. Making no mistake, Herrera slotted the ball into the bottom left corner to give Sacramento the 3-0 lead. Oakland managed to pull one back in the closing half-hour, but it was not enough as Sacramento cemented their place at the top of the table with a 3-1 win.
Now, Sacramento comes to Hartford for the first of three straight road games after spending 10 of the first 14 games across all competitions on home turf, in search of their second road win of the season. Despite their dominance, their only USL Championship loss of 2023 came on the road just under two weeks ago, a 1-0 midweek loss to Orange County SC.
They lead the Championship with a +15 goal differential, having only let in five goals through the 11 games this season. One on only four teams across the league to let in less than 10 goals up to this point, Sacramento leads the league in clean sheets this year. However, according to Hartford midfielder Danny Barrera, Hartford’s biggest challenge to overcome will be their own shortcomings.
“They definitely have weaknesses just like any other team,” Barrera said. “It’s just about us executing our game plan and really not making ourselves our own worst enemy, since we have tended to do that in the early stages in the season. If we can stay out of our own way, we definitely have a chance to win the game.”
“We have to be really careful on defensive transition,” Ramos added. “Where Sacramento does best is when they recover the ball they attack very quickly. It’s gonna be a balance for us in terms of trying to get as many numbers forward as we usually do and have at least four back at all times.”
To Ramos, his squad is ready for battle in their first-ever meeting with the 2023 USL Championship leaders following their first home win last week.
“I have confidence that our guys are ready to go…They’re loose, and they’re a little bit more confident now that we got the win [against Loudoun], and we’re playing at home, so we’re excited about that.”
With a chance to gain momentum against the best team in the league, kickoff in Friday night’s non-conference clash is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday on ESPN+ and WCTX MyTV9.