MATCH #1 RECAP: Athletic Slip Up in First-Ever Match
Here's the deal, we are going to do our best to get these up sooner in the future, but given the pomp and circumstance of Saturday night we wanted to give it some time to take a fresh look at not only the history that was made at 7:30 PM EST on March 9th, 2019, but also the match itself.
First, the history: Bare with me for some personal background. I moved to Hartford County in the Summer of 1997 only a few months after the Whalers broke the hearts of so many, packed up their busses, and moved south to North Carolina. I was 5 years-old at the time and sports were about all I cared about. Coming from Boston and moving to a place that had just lost their only true sports team, I felt like I was leaving heaven and entering purgatory. However, as I grew up in the region, it became obvious to me that the 860 had an incredibly rich sports culture and a super-passionate fan base. As a child I had the unfortunate pleasure of rooting for a rival Big East (I'm talking old Big East) university 110 miles north of Hartford; but even I could appreciate nutmeggers love of their UCONN Huskies. During the reign of the great UCONN Basketball teams, the semi-decent Randy Edsal (part 1) years of UCONN Football, and even the string of truly stellar UCONN Soccer teams, I saw first hand that people from Connecticut were loyal, passionate, and smart sports fans. They deserved a team...well, WE deserved a team. Thus, the issue has never been about finding a professional fan-base, but rather about finding a professional team. Saturday we found that team. Maybe it's not the NHL, or the NFL, or even MLS, but they wear blue and green and Hartford over their hearts. They're OUR team and just by taking the field Saturday, Hartford Athletic did something magical for this city and region. Look no further than the pictures and videos of the standing-room-only watch party at Hooker Brewery Saturday night to see just how much this club has begun to bring together the community and groups of fans who for so long have just wanted a hometown team. It was impossible to really lose Saturday, so just remember that.
ON TO THE FOOTBALL!
Boy, that was rough. Where to begin? First, with the lineup. As we nearly predicted in our matchday preview, Athletic came out looking like this:
In a 4-4-1-1, Athletic lined up similarly to the way the had all preseason. However, unlike preseason, the Lads failed to control possession early and were clearly hesitant in the midfield. Actually, scratch that, the lads looked hesitant everywhere. I'm not sure if it was the wet conditions, first game jitters, or the travel, but we came out, for lack of a better term, flat. For the first 20 minutes we should no real drive to pressure forward when ATL had the ball in their half and no ability to string together combinations of passes in the midfield. We were disjointed and disconnected at all levels, and it clearly gave Atlanta confidence they could control the game.
Despite this, after about 20 minutes things finally calmed down for Athletic and the game became a bit more 50/50 in terms of possession and position in each team's half of the field. In fact, I'd say ATL's first goal came a bit against the run of play. In the 30th minute, on what I would categorize as both poor defending and hard luck, ATL made the breakthrough. ATL's Brandon Vazquez received the ball on the right wing and played a clever one-two combination which ended with rocket off of Nikolaj Lyngo's hip and fell neatly to Vazquez who was all alone to tuck it away. Look, the ricochet off of Lyngo is unlucky there's no doubt about it, but the team defending of Vazquez has to be better. Look at this snippet of where Vazquez is when he gets the ball on the right wing:
Someone has to close this down! There were plenty of 4 white jerseys in good position to eliminate this threat. The only guy in the vicinity who is actually marking anyone is actually Lyngo. Allowing a player like Vazquez to run at you unimpeded is what caused our defense to become flat footed on Vazquez's run after the pass. Sure the bounce sucked, but with the run we allowed any competent pass and Athletic would've still been down 1-0. This is the type of hesitancy we saw all night.
Once the goal came, the rest of the game seemed to move at a frenetic pace which I'll admit was somewhat marred by the horrible pitch conditions. I'm still shocked that in the face of a torrential downpour ATL decided it was prudent to water the field at halftime...
Regardless, the game was moving toward an Athletic goal after the initial let down. I'd even argue that THE chance of the game came in in the 39th minute when Alex Dixon got some space on the right wing and curved in a beautiful ball that picked out Woj, all alone, on the back post. However, Woj pushed his header wide of the left post and missed a fantastic opportunity to level the game. This was really our best chance all night.
At halftime Dixon, who I'm told may have picked up a knock in the pre-match warmup, came off for Giuseppe Gentile. Gentile played the second 45 at a great pace and really showed some ability to go forward. Addtionally, Woj was replaced by Ryan Williams in the 59th minute and Jose Angulo made way for Mac Steeves in the 76th. It was clear with these subs that Jimmy was trying to get some fresh legs up top in order to put pressure on ATL and go for the equalizer. Perhaps attributable to us chasing the game like this, Athletic got caught out going forward in the midfield in the 80th minute which allowed ATL to find Vazquez with some space far too close to goal with far few white jerseys around him. The skilled youngster made a few nice moves and got his shot off just over the outstretched leg of Sem De Wit. 2-0 bad guys.
All in all, a tough night for the Whales (are we calling them that or what? Just let me know.) But hey, it was their first competitive game in the history of the club...right?
"I’m not buying the excuse of this being our first competitive match as a club," said Hartford Athletic Head Coach Jimmy Nielsen. "It was very disappointing tonight, disappointing result, disappointing performance. I’m very surprised that our quality dropped that low in tonight’s match. I have very high expectations for this group and I still have very high expectations. We have to bring more hunger and quality to the game."
WOW RUN ME THROUGH A BRICK WALL JIMBO! In all seriousness, the Gaffer said it best: it just wasn't good enough and was a dissapointing start. To temper it a bit though, if I may, I did think we settled in and saw real flashes going forward after giving up the first goal. I'm intrigued to see how we respond this Saturday, and with comments like that from Jimmy, I would not want to be the boys this week in training. Despite the actual result, like I said at the outset, Saturday was a great night for Hartford and Connecticut as a whole. We all should be proud, excited, and optimistic about this team moving forward, because, like I always say, it's better having a team than not having a team.
Full Stats Below
Shots: 17-15 Atlanta
Shots on Target: 8-6 Atlanta
Corner kicks: 4-7 Hartford
Fouls committed: 8-7 Atlanta
Saves: 6-6 Tied
Offside: 0-4 Hartford
Possession: 58-42 Atlanta
Passing Accuracy: 85-74 Atlanta
ATL – Jon Gallagher 30’
ATL – Brandon Vazquez (Anderson Asiedu) 80’
HAR – Tyler David (yellow) 72’
ATL – Jackson Conway (yellow) 90+1’
ATLANTA UNITED 2 STARTING LINEUP
Brendan Moore; George Campbell, Tyler Ruthven, Florentin Pogba (Luiz Fernando – 71’); George Bello (Guillermo Benitez – 67’), Jon Gallagher (Will Vint 55’), Anderson Asiedu, Jack Metcalf, Jackson Conway, Dion Pereira, Brandon Vazquez.
HARTFORD ATHETIC STARTING LINEUP
Jacob Lissek; Sam de Wit, Nikolaj Lyngo, Tyler David, Raymond Lee; Wojciech Wojcik (Ryan Williams – 59’), Mads Jorgensen, Philip Rasmussen; Hugh Alexander Dixon (Giuseppe Gentile – 45’), José Angulo (Mac Steeves – 76’), Sebastian Dalgaard.