Hartford Athletic will host Loudon United for the fourth and final time this season on Saturday. The last time both teams met, Loudon was dominant for the majority of the match, going 2-0 up until the 73rd minute; Hartford was able to turn the game around in under 20 minutes and equalize due to Loudon’s overconfidence. Hartford’s first goal came in the 84th minute from a free kick by Markus Nagelstad, while the second goal came just four minutes later from a header by Alex Dixon.
Hartford will look to protect its home record of 4-1-1 after losing 3-0 in Dillon Stadium for the first time this season to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. After rewatching last Friday’s match, I believe that Hartford’s defense during this game is what truly cost them their chances of rising to the top of Group F. Going forward, Hartford should strengthen their defense in preparation for their upcoming match. Attacking-wise, they did a better job when compared to their last match against Loudon, but they need to find the right balance and not get ahead of themselves this weekend.
I am anticipating the obvious return of Éver Guzman to Hartford’s starting 11. Hartford fans finally got to see the return of the forward during the final 30 minutes of the match following his recovery from an injury. Unfortunately, Guzman couldn’t fully reignite his chemistry with the squad, specifically captain Danny Barrera, despite almost scoring a header in the 66th minute. Should Guzman not be healthy enough to start next in the game, Markus Naglestad will continue to play in his place; the Norwegian athlete put up a valiant effort in last Friday’s match before being substituted off. If head coach, Radhi Jaïdi, starts with similar players while maintaining the typical 3-5-3 formation, he should swap midfielder Tyreke Johnson to the right side of the field. As the hosts of the Nutmeg State podcast noted, Johnson’s tendency to shift naturally to the right caused him to perform better, even allowing him to score.
As for Loudon, this season has not treated the team well, as it has only won one game so far this season. Loudon’s last fixture came against Pittsburgh in which the result was similar to Hartford’s, losing 3-0. It’s difficult to say how Loudon will perform this weekend, given its sporadic results and performances against Hartford, but the Boys in Green should not underestimate them.
My advice for Hartford? Stay cool, calm and collected. The gap between them and No. 3 Red Bulls II is quite large, but they need to make sure that they can continue to narrow the gap with Pittsburgh who are only six points ahead. Should Hartford win its match against Loudon and Pittsburgh lose to the Baby Bulls on Saturday, the fight for first will soon return.