Undefeated at home no more: HA fall 2-1 to Memphis 901
On what turned out to be a pleasant spring evening in East Hartford, our boys in Green took the pitch against fellow bottom-half side Memphis 901 and fell 2-1.
Obviously it sucks to lose at Fortress (East) Hartford for the first time in club history, as Men In Blazers noted, this is something we never, ever expected to happen.
Let's talk first about the positives: With a really respectable crowd of 5,045 at Rentschler, it was another strong showing from the supporters. The19s, the 2nd regiment, and newly minted Elm City Casuals made tons of noise in section 119 and once again the Rent felt like a great soccer atmosphere. It's so awesome to see such a strong response from the fans following on the heels of the inaugural match. 5k fans on a rainy Friday night for an 0-9-1 team is nothing to sniff at, and even the players and coaches have taken notice. In the midst of what was a tense post-game presser, the gaffer Jimmy Nielsen took some time to call out the fans saying "...I think the guys there in the stands today brought everything they had and gave everything they had. And unfortunately, I can't say that about the team."
Yikes. Well on that note, it was a lot of the same with a bit of magic sprinkled in for Athletic.
After some early even play, the boys in Green fell behind first when Memphis' Duane Muckette put the visitors ahead in the 24th minute. It's been well documented that early goals are a consistent theme of the season, but it makes it no less frustrating that Athletic can't seem to go 30 minutes without conceding. This goal by Muckette was part of a decent build up from Memphis, but Muckette's charge into the center of the box unmarked underscores Athletic's inability to keep their composure, communicate, and pick up runners at the back. Coach Jimmy Nielsen summed this up in the post game when he blasted his team:
"I was very disappointed how we were connected, and our compactness as a team defensively, there were too many gaps for them to fill the spaces in between the lines...You know, they were finding too many [passes] in those pockets between our midfield and our defense."
Like last week however, Athletic did not wilt, and after gaining composure and pushing forward, defensive talisman Ray Lee scored an absolute FIRE CRACKER to bring us level.
What a brilliant run of play that started with Nicky Downs controlling the midfield and ended with a beautiful 1-2 combination between Lee and Alex Dixon. In what was mostly an uninspired performance from our boys in Green, this play was a sign of what Athletic are capable of when they play fast, composed, and confident.
After Athletic made it game on, Memphis firmly took control. The visitors peppered Athletic's end with a flurry of forward play and shots on goal. Brick-Wall Jacob Lissek played his ass off, getting a hand on everything sent his way and keeping the home side in it for the majority of the game. Lissek has been outstanding stopping shots this season and his effort on Friday night continues to make him one of the few Athletic players you can't blame for the team's current form.
Given how the run of play went, it was no surprise Memphis took the lead on an Elliot Collier header in the 70th minute. This goal here was a summation of what Nielsen and others' lamented post game in regards to Hartford's defense. On a seemingly innocuous cross, Collier was left completely unmarked in the Hartford box.
This is exactly what the White Puma is talking about when he says that Memphis were just poking holes through our defense. You look at this goal here and it's really hard to blame anyone other than the guys on the field. I know they are working hard ,and i know they were under pressure for most of the half, but the formation here is good, the shape is good, the pressure to the ball is ok, it simply comes down to individual battles that right now Athletic are NOT winning enough of them.
Ugh. The final 20 minutes showed a bit of promise as Athletic brought on Jose Angulo and Giuseppe Gentile to add some forward pace. There were a few long chances right up until the 5th minute of stoppage time, but nothing of real quality. Final: Memphis 2 Hartford 1.
After the game, the post-game press-conference room was flaming hot with Coach Nielsen essentially discussing how disappointed he was in the players for the team's performance. Whether you like a coach calling out his team or not, it's hard to argue that the White Puma was wrong in this case. I didn't find anything tactically wrong with Athletic's approach. It was the same team and tactical set up that looked promising against Charlotte the other week. I did think a lot of guys who really shined against Charlotte immensely struggled Friday night. Colin Martin, who has been fantastic since joining the team, looked exhausted and less impactful in the midfield Friday. Phil Rasmussen who was a rock against Charlotte had to come off at halftime, and Nikolaj Lyngo who replaced him in the center of the park really didn't adjust to speed of the game. But all across the board the team just looked in slow motion compared to their performance at the inaugural match, and that's concerning. It doesn't take talent to work hard and go 100% all the time. The hesitancy needs to stop. Although it's on the players, it's up the Nielsen and his staff to instill them with the confidence and belief to go hard for 90 full minutes. So despite what Jimmy says, ultimately the buck stops with him.
Refreshingly, it doesn't seem that the players disagree with Nielsen's harsh assessment either. In fact, Jacob Lissek agreed with the gaffer when asked about his comments in the post-game:
JL: "Yeah, I mean, I agree we didn't perform at all, we didn't come out with an urgency, we didn't have a commitment and it's not acceptable."
Alex Dixon provided some further interesting commentary when asked about what the team can improve on, while also saluting the fans:
AD: "We have to bring intensity. I mean that's the easiest thing like we can control how hard we work and you know how you know how hard you want to be to break down? And it' just it's the little things that we need done correct and right now we're not doing them and that's you know, that's the basics but what can you say to the fans who came out to see you today? They’re incredible as always you know they were behind us hundred percent of the way on Saturday and today just absolutely unbelievable the to have them behind us and you know where we hope in the future we can pick up some points and celebrate with them.
All in all, another disappointing evening for Hartford Athletic. Fortress Hartford was invaded and all 3 points were stolen away. Despite the result, and the Club's current record, the fan's continue to bring the intensity, passion, and love of club that is inspiring. We can only hope the player's and coaches do the same going forward.
No rest for the weary however, as Athletic are onto the Cosmos and Open Cup Tuesday, 730 pm, at UHart. GET BEHIND THE LADS! #COYBG