Welcome back, UConn nation! We’ve finally gotten through the year that could only be described as ‘hot garbage’ that is 2020. A lot has happened in the world of soccer during the winter break, but I’ll be more focused on the local level in this article: the USL Championship, but more specifically, Hartford Athletic. Get the Brass Bonanza ready! We’ve got returning and new members to the Connecticut club.
The earliest announcements of returning players occurred towards the end of November and early December, those players being midfielder Danny Barrera and Gabriel Torres. Captain Barrera, entering his third season with the club, played a crucial part in the Athletic’s 2020 campaign under former coach Radhi Jaïdi, where he led the team in assists (seven) and had two goals in his account out of the 17 games he played. His most notable moment in the green and blue shirt? Without a doubt, his ‘immaculate deflection’ against Philly Union II toward the end of the season, which was the game winner in that fixture. Torres also played an important role last season, being the runner-up in the club for created chances (15) and was named in the USL Championship’s Team of the Week twice.
Throughout the month of December, Alex Lara, Conor McGlynn, Arthur Rogers and prospect Alfonso Vazquez were also unveiled to be returning to the club. Some of the more notable players are Rogers, who created 11 chances in the 16 matches he played, and Vazquez who, despite his limited playing time last season, showed massive potential in being a key forward. After all, going from Windham High School, where he made Connecticut high school history for all-time goals (149), straight to a professional club is quite impressive, and fans will certainly be excited to see more of him on the pitch.
Unfortunately, with players coming back during the transfer window saw players going out the door. Harry Swartz was the first departee who signed for New Mexico United. His most notable contribution to Hartford was scoring the fastest goal in the club’s history of only 15 seconds (fifth fastest in league history) in their inaugural 2019 season. But the biggest loss to the team was Alex Dixon’s departure who signed with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Dixon was the club’s top scorer of six goals in the 16 games he played.
On the bright side, the Connecticut club was able to make some new signings, with more on the way soon. The first signee to wear the green and blue jersey was defender Younes Boudadi, who transferred from Reno 1868 FC following the club’s disbandment after the 2020 season. Boudadi made seven appearances for Reno in which he won almost 75%of his tackles, 89% of his duels and had a high successful passing rate of 81%. Following the signing of Boudadi came midfielder Nii Armah Ashitey, a player from the Ghana Premier League who played for Dream FC.
Hartford’s most recent signings came in the past couple weeks, one of whom is goalkeeper Carlos Merancio, who played for USL League One’s FC Tucson, but the most important signing of them all was a new coach from across the pond. On Jan. 13, the club announced Harry Watling as the head coach for the upcoming season. Watling worked in West Ham United’s academy system prior to his transfer to the states, but has a history of working under Millwall as well as Jose Mourinho’s and Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea.
In an interview with Nutmeg State, Watling said that he doesn’t want to change everything the club has worked on in its infancy.
“I want to add value,” he said. “If there were things that we did last season that worked, let’s keep doing those things. If there were things we can improve on, that’s my job. I’m here to add value … Ultimately, I want to win games. I want to win games in style.”