Match Day Preview: Playoff Football Comes to Hartford
Match Day is here folks! And for this special occasion we are firing up the blog once again. The buzz in Hartford is real for this one as (The?) Athletic is the hottest ticket in town. (Side note: at first I was pretty against The Athletic but for some reason of recent it's growing on me.) It is worth taking a moment reflecting on this momentous feat from the lads in Blue and Green. Just wow... I think few people had the expectations of Hartford making this playoffs after their performance last season and drawing NYC RBII and Pittsburgh (two of the perennial powers in the East) but let alone Hartford going into Highmark Stadium, beating Pittsburgh and taking care of business to win the group. The word that comes to mind when thinking about this team is Resilience. This team never gives up. Down 2-0 to Loudoun late... score two goals and secure a crucial point. Get smacked around twice by a dominant Riverhound squad. Bounce back and grit out a gutsy 1-0 win while being down to 10 men in the last quarter hour. Philly levels the score 2-2 and but who else steps up and makes the play of the season at the death – the captain. DANNY BARRRRRRRRERA with The Immaculate Deflection. One of if not the most crazy endings to a sport's game I've witnessed. Believe people. Believe.
Let's talk tonight. St. Louis FC in their last year in the USL (team is disbanding mostly due to an MLS expansion team coming to St. Louis) battled through arguably the toughest group in the USL to earn a surprising playoff spot. Beating Indy XI 2-1 on the last day of the season, St. Louis FC extended the life of their club.
What to watch for tonight:
#14 Tyler Blackwood is the man for St. Louis FC. This Englishman is good. 6 goals in 14 matches he's a complete forward in the USL. He has the breakaway speed to run in behind the back line combined with a killer instinct around the net. He's the main target for St. Louis and one that Hartford needs to bottle up tonight.
#4 Sam Fink. He is the leader and backbone of this STL team. He solidifies a very good backline that has battled all season against the likes of USL attacking standouts such as Indy XI's Tyler Pasher and Louisville's Cameron Lancaster. It will be tough for Hartford to crack this defense but with Hartford scoring 20 out of their 31 goals at the Dill, I like our chances.
#11 Alex Dixon. Dixon is the X-factor for Athletic. He has deadly top end speed and can create nightmares for backlines when he gets in behind. For Dixon tonight, we need him to take his chances. At times inconsistent this season in front of goal, Dixon will have opportunities to put the ball in the back of net and we need his quality to be top in front of net if we are going to pull away with a win tonight. This includes service to Cheno in the box as well.
#10 Danny Barrrrrrera. The captain. The immaculate deflection. What can't Danny do for the Green and Blue. He is the heartbeat of this squad and the engine on offense that creates goals out of nothing for the likes of Cheno and Dixon. We probably will need a couple more incredible moments from the magic man at Dillon Stadium if Hartford is going to make a deep run in the 2020 playoffs.
#4 Kevin Politz. Coming off arguably his strongest performance away at Red Bull II, Politz needs to may mistake free football tonight for Hartford to get past this tough STL squad. We cannot afford to gift STL goals tonight and with the level of play he has shown in the last 3 games I am confident Politz will continue to provide stability to a backline that has had some iffy moments earlier in this 2020 season.
El Dulce's prediction:
2-0. Hartford wins. Fortress. Hartford. We don't lose big games at Dillon. Goal scorers Cheno and Harry Swartz. Yes. Harry. He makes his return from injury in style scoring a massive goal to all but secure a place for Hartford in the next round. The Needham Rocket bleeds green and blue and who else to pick for this moment.
Dr. Nutmeg's prediction:
3-2. Hartford survives a high scoring, back and forth affair. Barrera notches two assists. Cheno bags a brace. And Gabby Torres scores the winner late. Gabby is an energizer bunny in the back and with Tyreke on recall to Southampton FC, I expect Gabby to rise to the occasion and find the back of the net to lift the lads into the next round. CMON YOU BOYS IN GREEN!!!!!!!