Hartford Athletic traveled to MSU Soccer Park on Sunday for its final game of the regular season against the New York Red Bulls II. Everything was on the line for the visitors, as a win meant a guaranteed home playoff game in the postseason; and Hartford pulled it off with two goals late in the match.
Red Bulls II took its first shot of the match in the 8th minute from a throw-in. John Tolkin threw the ball back into play toward Sebastian Elney who dribbled the ball into Hartford’s final third of the pitch. Ripping a shot just outside the penalty box, the ball was blocked by Parfait Mandanda. Hartford’s Alex Dixon and Éver Guzmán tried to go on the counterattack shortly after, but Joseph Fala managed to put himself ahead of Guzmán. The Baby Bulls had another great shot in the 15th minute from Elney again. With three Hartford players marking him, he made a last-second cut to his left and went for the ground shot. Close, but the ball strolled just wide of the net.
Five minutes later, Hartford could’ve had, in my opinion, a penalty called for them but the referees said otherwise. Hartford went on the attack right after a throw-in where Aiden Mesias lobbed the ball up the field to Dixon. Dixon went on the run from the right side and cut inward to the penalty box where he was met by Red Bulls defenders Joseph Zalinsky and Joseph Fala, who sandwiched the forward. No call was given, and the Baby Bulls gradually went on the counterattack just minutes after. Elney ran straight from the middle to the right side of the penalty box where he crossed to Jake LaCava. Taking a shot off a volley, it wasn’t accurate enough and the ball went just wide again.
The remainder of the first half was mainly dominated by Red Bulls II. Hartford didn’t have its fair share of chances until the 47th minute. Dixon went on the attack with the options of Guzmán to his left or Danny Barrera to his right, and he ultimately went with Barrera. Nearly saved by Omar Sowe from a sliding tackle, Barrera tried to cross the ball in but was intercepted by the Red Bulls II keeper.
New York’s momentum didn’t leave the pitch, as in the opening minutes of the second half another great chance to score. Omar Sowe went on to run and passed to Sebastian Elney after the Hartford defense was caught off-guard. Elney took a powerful shot by the near post, but Mandanda blocked it out for a corner kick.
A couple minutes later, Hartford would respond with a chance from Barrera. Receiving the ball from Justin Haak, Barrera made a quick turnaround and took a shot from the right side of the penalty area to the far post. A great chance from the visitors, but it was saved at the last second by the Red Bulls II keeper. Tyreke Johnson tried to keep the ball in play but knocked the ball over the end line. Guzmán had another opportunity to score for Hartford as the Red Bulls II keeper went well off his line shortly after, but he couldn’t get a strong enough kick to score. Dixon took his chance in the 52nd minute, but the keeper was quick to react.
In the 65th minute, Hartford would finally get its long-awaited lead in the match. Dixon made his way to New York’s final third where he passed to Guzmán. Guzmán went for the shot but had a weak touch for it to be on target. That was no problem, as Johnson waited by the far post to get the ball and score.
Ten minutes later, Hartford would score again, securing the three points they needed. Just a couple minutes earlier, in the 73rd minute, Conor McGlynn came on as a substitute for Aiden Mesias and almost instantly made an impact on the field. Johnson passed to McGlynn, who was quick to take a chance on goal. He took a powerful shot from distance and put the ball right in the back of the net. The Red Bulls II tried to get some shots in the back of Hartford’s net at the death but to no avail, and Hartford would finish the regular season on a high note.
Hartford’s next match will be on Saturday against Saint Louis FC in the quarterfinals of the USL Championship playoffs.