Hartford Athletic Preview: All eyes on Pittsburgh

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Hartford Athletic will go on the road Sunday to face the Pittsburgh Riverhounds for the final time this season. The last time the two sides met, Hartford were decimated in a 5-0 defeat in Pittsburgh’s Highmark Stadium.  

I have to admit, it’s a bit difficult to find anything optimistic to say for Hartford for this match. Given how strong of a team Pittsburgh is, it could be another goalless match from the visitors. However, since their last meetup, Pittsburgh has played one match which was against Loudoun United where it won 1-0 — its lowest-scoring game that resulted in a win. I found this to be quite surprising, mainly because this wasn’t the side of Pittsburgh that everyone’s been used to watching this season. After watching their road game, Loudoun, a team dead last in the group, actually managed to put up a fight which made it very difficult for Pittsburgh to make plays. On top of that, Pittsburgh couldn’t really get a lot of their shots on target. This is a bit worrisome for Pittsburgh fans, but could help bring Hartford to an advantage if the ‘Hounds perform similarly to how it did in its Loudoun match. 

Coming off a draw, Hartford should use this match to prepare for the USL Championship playoffs. Compared to the Union II match where they traveled to Subaru Park and Wednesday’s game, the midfield was much better, but the attacking was a bit lackluster. I don’t want to criticize the forward too harshly, but Alfonso Vazquez should be a substitute instead of a starter. I know fans were ecstatic when the 18-year-old scored back in August and were hoping to see a similar performance on Wednesday, but I wasn’t all too impressed. At least twice during the match, Vazquez could’ve either scored or set up a play that could’ve led to a goal, but the teenager didn’t have the reaction time that someone like Ever Guzmán or Markus Naglestad has. I’m not too sure why Guzmán didn’t start, but if he’s on the bench on Sunday’s clash, it should be Naglestad and Dixon up front. 

Head coach Radhi Jaïdi’s choice of a 4-4-2 formation on Wednesday wasn’t too bad, but I still think he should use the 3-1-4-2 form. If the coaching staff wants the team to be a serious contender in the playoffs, they’re going to need to find a different formation that will bring Hartford far in the postseason. A 3-5-2 formation has worked well, but only because Hartford hasn’t played other teams outside of Group F besides Indy Eleven, who it lost to 4-1. At this rate, Hartford could face Louisville City FC, a team similar to Pittsburgh; if that’s the case, Hartford will most likely not make it past the quarterfinals if it continues the same style of play. 

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