Hartford Athletic’s efforts for an upset were not enough after losing 2-1 to the dominant Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Just one day before kickoff in Florida, Hartford released a statement confirming the team was experiencing a severe COVID-19 outbreak. The team specifically stated that 10 of their players would be unable to play in the upcoming game against Tampa Bay, with no goalkeepers being able to play in the upcoming matchup. This announcement stirred controversy among fans as they felt like the game would not be fair to the Athletic, especially at a time when the team desperately needed an opportunity to secure points for their conference standings.
“Despite multiple requests to the League and Tampa Bay Rowdies organizations recommending to reschedule, the League is requiring the match to be played as scheduled tomorrow night.” read the statement from Hartford, “We are beyond disappointed with this decision which is in no way aligned with the spirit of competition and fails to put the best interests of players, staff, and fans first.”
Due to the league not rescheduling the match, Hartford was left with signing twenty-five-day contracts to forward Daniel Bloyou and goalkeeper Marvyn Dorchin to make up for the deficit in their roster. On matchday, Hartford’s bench only contained three players, meaning substitutions would be limited, and fatigued players would likely have to play a full 90 minutes, which greatly benefits the Tampa Bay side and threatens injures for overplayed players.
The start of the first half was even as both teams had opportunities to score, but Hartford’s Elvis Amoh struck first with an unstoppable shot in the 13th minute of the match. Already coming off a great performance in the previous game, Amoh managed to execute a key play for the Athletic. As the match progressed, Tampa Bay was seeking to equalize. Their first close opportunity came in the 22nd minute when a corner kick from Tampa Bay was saved by Hartford goalkeeper Dorchin. In stoppage time of the first half, Danny Barrera’s corner kick was cleared by Tampa Bay’s defense. Immediately following the corner kick, Tampa Bay’s Cal Jennings’ breakaway was converted to a goal after a powerful upper left kick into the goal. By the end of the first half, the game was tied 1-1.
Tampa Bay started strong in the second half after multiple shots were missed by the home team. For the first 15 minutes of the half, the Rowdies dominated possession of the ball. Hartford’s first opportunity of the half didn’t appear until the 63rd minute, after a shot off target from Antoine Hoppenot. The remainder of the second half saw both teams desperately putting in an offensive effort to break the tie. The second half also saw many fouls on both sides, which resulted in a whopping seven yellow cards for both teams. In the closing minutes of the game, Tampa Bay took the lead after Ariel Martínez took advantage of a scrambled Hartford defense. In stoppage time, the Athletic had an opportunity to pull off an equalizer, however, Hoppenot’s shot went over the crossbar. Tampa Bay ended the game with a shot from Lucky Mkosana that hit the left goal post and would have extended their lead.
Hartford continues to be last in their conference. With only seven games left in their season, they have to win almost every game left on their schedule to be in playoff contention. Another loss could be a fatal blow to the Athletic’s aspirations of a longshot playoff campaign. The team will return at home on Saturday with a matchup against Rio Grande Valley FC.