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PREVIEW: Hartford Set For Revenge Meeting With Birmingham
Just three weeks after bring shutout by the Legion at home, the Green and Blue head to Birmingham for a second matchup with the Legion in search of a second-straight league win.
For Hartford Athletic fans, Tuesday’s 2-1 U.S. Open Cup loss to the New England Revolution showcased one of the better performances of the season for the Green and Blue — a resilient battle that forced the Major League Soccer leaders to play their best weapons to come away with a hard-fought win.
Now, Hartford will look to use that momentum to their advantage, set to return to USL Championship play on Sunday for a second meeting with the Birmingham Legion.
The first meeting between these two squads on the season took place just over a month ago at Trinity Health Stadium — a 1-0 win for the Legion that saw Hartford shut out in their home opener.
In that match, a first-half strike from Gabriel Alves found the bottom right corner from outside the box to give the visitors the lead, and Hartford could not find an equalizer despite crafting a number of dangerous second-half opportunities.
Sunday’s trip will round out a month-long road stretch that spanned five games across all competitions for Hartford. Last time out in league play, the Green and Blue fought to their first USL Championship win of the season in a 2-1 win over Oakland Roots SC.
First-half goals from Prince Saydee and Jeciel Cedeño (his first in the USL Championship) saw Hartford take a commanding 2-0 lead on the road, but the home side did not go down without a fight. Oakland pulled a goal back through a second-half penalty, but Hartford were able to endure relentless pressure with nervy defensive moments to escape with a win and snap the Root’s unbeaten start to the season at home.
Hartford had a bye-week break following the win, but the void was filled in with their second-ever meeting with a Major League Soccer side on Tuesday. They made the trip to Gillette Stadium to go up against the league-leading New England Revolution in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup, a match that put two U.S. Soccer coaching legends up against each other in Tab Ramos and Bruce Arena.
Despite bowing out of the competition with a 2-1 loss, Hartford made the hosts fight for it. They created a number of dangerous chances in the first half, took nine shots and even dominated the attacking play at times, but ultimately fell behind in the 12th minute off of a corner kick.
Still not to be deterred, Prince Saydee would connect with Antoine Hoppenot in the 52nd minute to tie the game at one. It was Hoppenot’s first goal of the season, and it could not have come at a better time.
With the game locked at one, it took Bruce Arena looking towards his bench and bringing on several key starters that initially had the night off to overcome a resilient Hartford side. Second-half substitutes Carles Gil and Dave Romney would ultimately combine to seal Hartford’s fate with a second half goal, but the performance drew heavy praise from Revolution head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena, and gave the visitors momentum heading to Alabama.
Tuesday’s game featured the debut of Juan Pablo Torres for Hartford, who was signed on Thursday after spending the previous two season in Texas. He started and went 70 minutes in the midfield for the Green and Blue. Andre Lewis also saw a return to the field in the 58th minute, making his first appearance since being stretchered off of the field with a face injury vs. Colorado on March 18.
For Birmingham, their last taste of league action came in a narrow 2-1 road win over Orange County SC on April 22. After going down a goal in the 29th minute, the Legion were quick to respond. Just three minutes later, former Revolution striker Juan Agudelo found the ball on the left wing, dribbling through three defenders in the box before eventually finding the far side netting for his first goal of the season.
The visitors completed the come-from-behind victory in the 58th minute. Collin Smith’s run took him through several defenders but only as far as the goal line, where he squared a ball across the box and to the feet of Enzo Martinez, who’s right-footed finish from inside the box beat Cody Cropper and gave the Legion the 2-1 lead.
Similar to Hartford’s win in Oakland, Orange County continued to put the pressure on through the closing half-hour, but strong defensive resolve capped off by a Trevor Spangenburg stoppage-time save saw the Legion come away with the win and snap a two-game losing skid on the road.
Both teams will head into tonight’s matchup looking to string together multiple wins in a row following equally as nervy performances on the road. Kickoff from Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama is set for 5 p.m. ET on WCTX MyTV9 and ESPN+.