Hartford Preview: A tough rematch on the road

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Hartford Athletic face group leaders Pittsburgh Riverhounds on the road this Saturday. The last time both sides met, the Hounds broke Hartford’s home winning streak with a 3-0 victory, thanks to defender Ryan James’ brace and a solo goal from midfielder Danny Griffin. 

Statistics-wise, Hartford Athletic put up a decent fight in their first match against the Pittsburgh side, having 43% possession compared to 57% for the Hounds. Additionally, the Boys in Green had one more shot than Pittsburgh (10 and nine respectively) while both teams shared the same number of shots on target (four). Given how strong a team Pittsburgh is, you would expect complete dominance across the board. 

After Hartford’s disappointing match to the Riverhounds, head coach Radhi Jaïdi said in an interview that one match wouldn’t lower Hartford’s performance.  

“The players have the will and desire to get back to basics and make sure we’re on the front foot all the way,” he said.  

Hartford Athletic’s Head Coach Radhi Jaidi, pictured here during the team’s practice.

Jaïdi is trying to instill a new mentality in the club when they face stronger teams like Pittsburgh in the future. This new mentality will be helpful when Hartford travel to Pittsburgh’s Highmark Stadium, especially when it comes to defense. I was originally going to say their problem is likely due to a formation issue when Jaïdi uses a 3-5-2 form, but after seeing Hartford change to a 4-4-2 and concede early once again in their final meet against Loudoun United, I think it’s the players themselves. Hartford has very few defenders to select, but the defense has been the more lackluster side of investment for Hartford ever since the club’s first season last year. The strongest defender looks to be Matheus Silva, having the most activity with 19 interceptions and winning 15 of his tackles so far. Since he’ll most likely start against Pittsburgh, he’ll put up a really good fight against their strong offense. 

Hartford haven’t been on the road that much this season, mainly due to Philadelphia Union II cancelling matches because of COVID-19 complications. But the two times they were, their performances were subpar. In their first away match on July 17 against the New York Red Bulls II, they only won 1-0; though, the Baby Bulls had many unlucky plays that, had they been avoided, could’ve resulted in much different outcome. In their second away match on July 29, Hartford played Indy Eleven – a team in Group E – where they lost 4-1. The Hounds also lost to Indy 1-0 in their first meet up and lost 3-0 in their rematch. 

As for Pittsburgh, there’s not much to say other than they’re entering the rematch in great form. Since their 3-0 match against Hartford, they’ve maintained a clean sheet against Loudoun and the Red Bulls II with a 3-0 win in both games. The one player Hartford should look out for is defender Ryan James, as he scored a brace the last time both sides met. With a home record of 3-1-1, the Hounds will likely go for the high press in order to add one more win on their home turf. 

Hartford know going into the match that it will be a difficult 90 minutes, but they should not let that determine how the match will turn out. Hartford should focus on playing defensively, and Jaïdi should continue with the 4-4-2 formation, as having an additional defender could prove to be helpful in this game. Kickoff is set for Saturday, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. 

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