The Hartford Athletic played their most crucial fixture on Friday against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds dubbed “the fight for first,” as the winner of this match would be No. 1 in Group F in the USL Championship. To Hartford’s surprise, the Riverhounds would end their home win streak with a 3-0 victory over the boys in green.
Hartford’s first scoring chance came in the 10th minute after a poor tackle from Riverhounds keeper Tomás Gómez on Alex Dixon. Mads Jørgensen went for the fake shot in which Tyreke Johnson followed, almost netting the ball in the upper left corner of the goal.
Pittsburgh responded a couple minutes later with one of the most remarkable plays of the match. Defender Jordan Dover passed the ball to forward Ropapa Mensah who backheeled it to a running Dover. Dover then crossed the ball after taking a step into the penalty box to midfielder Anthony Velarde who couldn’t find the opportunity to take a shot on goal. Velarde instead found defenseman Ryan James who smashed the ball off the far post, keeping the game close.
Pittsburgh was given a free kick in the 21st minute after Riverhounds defender Ray Lee was fouled by Hartford’s Arthur Rodgers. Robbie Hertz took the free kick, but couldn’t manage to find anyone as Hartford keeper Parfait Mandanda punched the ball out. The ball found the feet of midfielder Danny Griffin near the top of the box, and his shot put the Riverhounds up 2-0. Pittsburgh could’ve scored again in the 25th minute after a good play on the ball to Mensah, but the shot was ultimately deflected off of Kevin Politz, resulting in a corner kick.
The remainder of the first half was dominated by the Riverhounds, creating many chances for a shot on goal while marking down on Hartford’s players when defending. While Pittsburgh had several chances to increase its lead, it always came down to not being able to finish the play. As for Hartford, they could only hope to pull another miracle as they did in their draw against Loudon United on Aug. 23.
Hartford created another good chance in the 48th minute after Alex Dixon managed to break away from one of Pittsburgh’s defenders. Running in hopes of scoring a solo goal and reinstating Hartford’s momentum, Dixon took the shot with his right foot, but only hit the outside of the net.
Pittsburgh would respond a couple minutes later as Ryan James scored his third goal of the season and secured his brace for the match. In the build-up to James’ goal, Mensah passed to Dover who then passed it to an open Velarde. The ball found its way to Mensah off a poor Hartford clearance, but his shot was blocked by Mandanda. With the ball still in play, Dover received the ball and crossed to the far post in which James scored off the volley, netting the ball into the bottom right corner and extending Pittsburgh’s lead to three.
Hartford saw a few more chances in the remainder of the second half, from Sam Strong’s header off a corner, to Ever Guzmáns header in the 66th minute, but they couldn’t find a way to put a goal on the scoreboard.
This was a disappointing match to watch as this “remodeled” Hartford side compared to last season had fans filled with hope to pull an upset. However, I would say this is a game Hartford can seriously watch again and again and learn how to counter a team like Pittsburgh, who came in first in the USL’s Eastern Conference last season, and how they can show its true strength to compete in the league.
It is also important to note that because Guzmán has been out of the squad the past few weeks, it has impacted captain Danny Barrera’s ability to create plays, as the two have shown to have strong chemistry. Hopefully, Guzmán will return to the starting eleven soon and the duo can bring Hartford back to winning ways.
Hartford’s next game will be at home against Loudon United for the fourth and final time of the season, where they’ve beaten the DC United-owned team twice and drew last Sunday.