Hartford Athletic’s second year in the USL Championship came to an end on Saturday when they hosted Saint Louis FC and conceded a goal at the death.
Hartford took its first chance on goal in the 4th minute of the match. Gabriel Torres took a throw-in where he passed to Danny Barrera who passed back to Torres. Torres took a couple of dribbles before passing it to Aiden Mesias who crossed the ball into the penalty area. Alex Dixon shielded a Saint Louis defender for enough time for Ever Guzmán to take a shot that was saved by Saint Louis’ keeper Kyle Morton and went out for a corner kick.
A couple of minutes later, Saint Louis had its chance on goal. Right off a free kick, Russell Cicerone faked on taking the kick which was followed by Todd Wharton putting the ball in the penalty area. Deflected, the ball ended up on the feet of Tyler Blackwood who took a shot, but Parfait Mandanda saved the shot from going in the middle. Cicerone had a shot on goal in the 12th minute after running down the left side of the field, but the shot wasn’t strong enough to get off the ground and was easily saved by Mandanda.
A minute later, Torres almost opened his account in the playoffs after Barrera passed to him while wide open. Torres took a touch before shooting with his left foot, with a curl on the ball as well, but Morton saved it at the last second. In the 21st minute, Hartford had a golden opportunity and could’ve taken an early lead. Idan Cohen dribbled past some Saint Louis players until he had to pass out wide to Guzmán who quickly crossed the ball in the penalty area. Mesias was on the receiving end of the cross, and took a great chance on goal, but the Saint Louis keeper reacted fast on the play and deflected it just in time.
In the second half, Dixon had a decent chance to put Hartford in the lead. Justin Haak crossed the ball into the penalty area after a throw-in by Cohen, however the ball was poorly cleared by a Saint Louis defender. Torres got the deflected ball and quickly passed to Dixon who was surrounded by three Saint Louis players. Taking a fast shot, the ball went wide of the net.
In the 61st minute, Saint Louis had a good opportunity from a set piece to score. From a free kick after a controversial call, Cicerone curled the ball past a Hartford wall, but couldn’t get the shot on target and converted to a goal kick.
After a relatively leveled 20 minutes, Hartford would strike again, this time from Barrera. Torres went on the attack and passed to the captain after taking a few touches. Barrera, marked by a couple Saint Louis defenders, curled the ball past them, but Sam Fink used his head to reject the shot.
After a leveled game, Saint Louis would ultimately be the ones to score the lone goal and advance to the semifinals. After passing the ball in tight areas, Saint Louis found a golden opportunity after Mour Samb was tackled by Kevin Politz. Joaquín Rivas was right behind Samb and continued the play with an exposed Hartford defense. Arthur Rogers tried to put his foot in front of the shot but was too late, and Rivas put the ball in the back of the net.
I would just like to personally congratulate Hartford Athletic on this amazing campaign. After a poor inaugural season last year, this year was the complete opposite. To only be two years in its creation and make it to the USL’s playoffs is a massive achievement; and they can surely use Saturday’s game to prepare for their next campaign to be back in the playoffs. Until next season, from the capital.