Hartford Athletic got their playoff push back on track with an entertaining 2-1 win over Loudoun United at Dillon Stadium. Josh Fawole had fired the visitors into an early lead, before goals from Arthur Rogers and Gabriel Torres gave Hartford all three points.
Radhi Jaidi made four changes for Hartford after their 3-0 defeat to Pittsburgh Riverhounds last time out. Leading goal scorer Ever Guzman returned to the starting lineup, with new signing Markus Naglestad making way. Nicky Downs earned the start in midfield after a good performance off the bench against Pittsburgh, with Mads Jorgensen dropping to the bench as a result.
Torres and Alex Lara were drafted in as fullbacks as Hartford deployed a back four to start a game for the first time all season. Alex Dixon started and was shifted out to a winger role in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Guzman deployed as the lone forward.
Just like Hartford, Loudoun’s last game had been a 3-0 defeat to Pittsburgh, and coach Ryan Martin had made wholesale changes in the aftermath of that game. Alioune Ndour and Christian Sorto were drafted into the attack, with Theodore Ku-DiPietro making way along with Jeremy Garay.
Adam Lundegard and Allexon Saravia were drafted into the backline of a 4-2-3-1 shape by Martin, replacing Shane Wiedt and Issa Mudashiru.
Star man Elvis Amoh started in central midfield for Loudoun, and was a familiar (if not friendly) face for home fans, having scored 3 goals in his 3 previous starts at Dillon Stadium this season, as many as any Hartford player had scored at the venue.
The game started with Amoh making his presence felt in the opening minute, winning the ball in a challenge that left Rogers in need of treatment on the sidelines before returning to action.
A physical start to the game continued when Sam Strong was whistled for a foul during an aerial challenge with Ndour. Quick thinking Michael Gamble took the free kick quickly and chipped the ball in behind the Hartford back line only for Fawole to be ruled offside.
Loudoun took a 4th minute lead to amplify a frenetic start to the game, with Sorto playing a key role.
Amoh rolled the ball wide to right back Saravia, who played a long ball forward to feed a clever run in behind from Sorto. The young winger collected the pass inside the penalty area and squared the ball to Fawole who slid the ball home unmarked at the back post.
A lapse by Hartford center back Strong caused a chain reaction which led to the goal. During the build, Strong actually had a sizable cushion on Sorto in terms of being penetrated with a run
in behind. When Saravia received the ball and looked up, Strong ran forward in an attempt to execute an offside trap while the other players in the backline retreated, leaving Sorto in acres of space. This meant right back Lara vacated his initial position to provide cover, and his opposing winger Fawole was left open for an easy finish.
The Hartford backline was struggling early, and were stretched again two minutes later when Nelson Martinez chipped a pass in behind. Fawole raced behind Matheus Silva and the Brazilian defender hauled him down to concede a free kick and receive his 6th yellow card in 9 games so far this season. Gamble took the resulting free kick but his cross was headed away by Silva.
At the 7 minute mark, the game paused and players from both teams kneeled around the center circle to protest in favor of social justice and racial equity, a gesture that was echoed league wide.
The impressive start from Loudon continued with a sweeping end to end move that saw Sorto find Gamble in the penalty area, only for a heavy touch to send the ball out for a goal kick.
Hartford carved out their first chance of the game when Daniel Barrera played a ball forward to Dixon and the forward took on Lundegard before finding Guzman who moved the ball quickly to Tyreke Johnson. Southampton loanee Johnson created space before firing a shot that was blocked by Loudoun goalkeeper Simon Lefebvre at the near post. Rogers took the resulting corner but his inswinging effort was punched clear by Lefebvre.
Loudoun forced a turnover out wide before Amoh sent in a cross that Strong rose above Ndour to reach first, Strong’s header fell to Gable who had a powerful volley saved by Parfait Mandanda.
The end to end nature of a frenzied opening 15 minutes continued when Guzman drove forward and played a pass out wide. Dixon received the ball and swapped passes with Downs before lifting a ball to the back post where Guzman was denied by an excellent save from Lefebvre.
Hartford drew level in the 17th minute and it was a combination of left back Torres and central midfielder Rogers that did the damage. Torres won a header and found Rogers before rushing forward to join the attack. Rogers played forward to Torres and received the ball back before firing a long range shot past Lefebvre to level the scores.
Loudoun responded immediately when Downs turned the ball over and Sorto played a quick pass in behind the Hartford defense. Gamble latched onto the pass and cut back to Fawole who blazed a ball across the face of goal just beyond the reach of Sorto.
Hartford were soon back on the front foot and Downs fed Torres who sent over a cross that Dixon just failed to connect with before Lefebvre gathered at the second attempt.
The Hartford back four was proving particularly vulnerable to the ball in behind and Gamble fed Fawole who raced to the byline before squaring a ball that Ndour just failed to reach, Loudoun recycled the attack and Sorto had a chance but his shot was saved by Mandanda.
Fawole was played in by Gamble yet again and sent over a low ball that forced Mandanda into a save at the feet of Ndour. Sorto drove in a deep corner that was tipped behind by Mandanda, before Martinez curled a cross into the Hartford goalkeeper’s hands.
After the play, Ndour fouled Mandanda and was confronted by Strong who was in the midst of a physical contest with the powerful striker. Ndour received a yellow card for the foul on Mandanda from referee Christian Centeno.
A poor showing from the Hartford defense continued and Amoh played a pass to Sorto who went down in the penalty area, only for no foul to be called by referee Centeno. The loose ball found its way to Ndour who blasted his shot into the side netting.
Hartford won a 33rd minute corner when Downs fed Dixon who had his cross blocked behind by Saravia. Johnson took the corner and his inswinging cross was punched away off the goal line by Lefebvre.
Torres carried forward down the left flank and fed Johnson soon after who sent in a cross that was headed clear by Lundegard. Torres picked up the clearance and fired a shot that was saved by Lefebvre.
Loudoun responded when Amoh drove forward and fed Sorto, the winger twisted and turned before chipping in a cross that was headed over the bar by Ndour. Amoh was proving to be a key presence in central midfield for the visitors, showing the ability to win the ball and also drive the attack forward.
What was an entertaining game continued in free flowing fashion when Dixon passed to Guzman who teed up Barrera to curl a shot wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Loudoun midfielder Martinez played a raking ball forward from inside his own half to release Ndour, who cut inside Strong before firing a shot off target.
Left back Tyler Gabarra dribbled forward for Loudoun before releasing the dangerous Fawole in behind. Strong stepped over to cover and hacked down the forward at the byline to receive a yellow card. The booking meant that Hartford would play the remainder of the game with both center backs on a yellow card and potentially one foul from ejection.
Loudoun won a stoppage time corner when Amoh chipped a pass forward to Fawole, but Strong reached the ball first and knocked it behind for a corner.
The whistle blew for halftime and both teams would have entered the locker room feeling they would be able to find another goal and claim all three points.
Hartford started the second half on the front foot and won an early free kick when Barrera was fouled by Martinez. Rogers stepped up to take the free kick but drilled his attempted shot into the wall.
The home team had a big chance soon after when Barrera lifted a ball in behind for Guzman to chase. Goalkeeper Lefebvre charged out of his area and collided with his own defender Saravia before young defender Lundegard came up with the block.
Young D.C. United academy prospect Lundegard had struggled in previous games at Hartford but put in a much improved showing during this game.
Loudoun won a 53rd minute corner when Saravia charged forward and sent in a cross that found Gamble who had his shot blocked behind by Lara. Hartford goalkeeper Mandanda made an acrobatic play to punch away the resulting corner kick.
Hartford went down the other end and won a corner of their own when Barrera fed Dixon who produced a neat piece of skill inside the penalty area before having his cross blocked behind for a corner. Johnson’s corner was punched into the air by Lefebvre before Sorto hacked it clear.
Right back Lara pushed forward for Hartford and was found by Barrera before his shot was blocked by Gabarra to concede a corner. The corner was cleared by Ndour before Hartford recycled the attack and Barrera set up Guzman who blazed a golden chance over the crossbar from 5 yards out.
The influential Sorto continued to be a thorn in the side of Hartford and sent a cross over to the back post where Torres rose above Fawole and headed the ball behind for a corner. The low corner from Martinez found Amoh who lifted his shot over the crossbar.
Coach Martin made Loudoun’s first substitution of the game in the 64th minute when he replaced goal scorer Fawole with Ronald Fuentes.
Hartford made two substitutions of their own when Strong and Johnson were brought off and replaced with Kevin Politz and Aiden Mesias.
Hartford striker Guzman received a yellow card in the 70th minute for a high foot that made contact with the face of Lundegard while chasing a through ball.
Coach Jaidi shuffled his front line in the 72nd minute as his team looked for the winning goal, replacing Dixon with Naglestad.
Loudoun also made a change as Lundegard continued to feel the effects of his collision with Guzman and was replaced by Wiedt.
The Hartford substitutes were involved early and some slick buildup play from Hartford involved Mesias and Rogers before Barrera teed up Naglestad to fire a powerful shot over the bar.
Hartford found the decisive goal when Lara took a throw in to Barrera and received the ball back before crossing to the back post where Torres fired home. The physical presence of Naglestad played a part in the goal, eliminating a defender and seeing the ball drop for Torres to fire home at the back post. Loudoun defender Timmy Mehl received a yellow card in the aftermath of the goal for dissent.
The rare combination of right back crossing to left back for a winning goal was a fitting way to score the decisive goal. Torres and Lara were one of the big positives of Hartford switching to a back four, providing a consistent attacking outlet on each flank.
Loudoun were under pressure again soon after the goal and conceded a free kick when Mehl fouled Naglestad. Striker Naglestad got up to take the kick himself and blasted a long range shot wide.
Loudoun won a free kick of their own at the other end when Politz handled the ball while putting in a sliding tackle on Gamble. The set play was crossed in by Gamble but cleared away by the Hartford defense.
Hartford won an 85th minute free kick by the sideline when Martinez kicked out at the ankles of Torres. Naglestad swung in a dangerous cross but referee Centeno whistled for a handball on Barrera before Guzman tapped the ball into an empty net to end the threat.
The task to find an equalizer for Loudoun was made harder in the 87th minute when Mehl received a second yellow card for a reckless foul on Guzman and was ejected as a result.
Coach Martin made his final roll of the dice in the 89th minute with a triple substitution. Gabarra, Martinez and Amoh were withdrawn and the trio of Gabriel Gomez, Erumuse Momoh and Ally Hamis Ng’Anzi took their place.
Substitute Ng’Anzi received the ball in the center circle and played a ball over the top to Ndour who took a touch before firing a shot that was saved by Mandanda. The subsequent throw from Mandanda launched an end to end counter attack that ended in Barrera blazing a shot wide of the goalpost.
Loudoun launched another ball forward for Ndour to chase but this time the forward was muscled off the ball by Silva.
The late barrage from Loudoun continued and Gomez pumped a ball into the penalty area only for Wiedt’s header to roll harmlessly into the arms of Mandanda before the clock ticked down on an important three points for the home team.
Hartford got their season back on track after a heavy defeat the week prior, and will look to carry this momentum into a road trip to face the Riverhounds next weekend as the playoff picture begins to take shape.
Jaidi will have been encouraged by the ability of Torres and Lara to contribute as overlapping fullbacks in a back four, but the shape does need some refining over the week as Athletic were very vulnerable to balls in behind, something Bob Lilley and his Pittsburgh staff will have noted.
Loudoun took yet another loss in a disappointing season during what was their fourth straight defeat at Dillon Stadium. With that said, coach Martin had molded a much more solid team for the two most recent trips which ended in narrow one goal defeats. This was a marked improvement from Loudoun’s vulnerability in more one sided contests earlier in the season.
Amoh and a number of younger players such as Ndour, Sorto and Fawole will surely be gaining the attention of the D.C. United staff with their solid performances this season.
4’ LOU Josh Fawole (Christian Sorto) 0-1
17’ HAR Arthur Rogers (Gabriel Torres) 1-1
76’ MAR Gabriel Torres (Alex Lara) 2-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#16 LD Gabriel Torres (Hartford Athletic) – A phenomenal performance from the left back, winning the ball defensively, causing Loudoun many problems going forward and covering an inordinate amount of ground up and down the flank. Assisted Rogers for the equalizer before popping up at the back post for the game winning goal in the 76th minute.
3: LD Gabriel Torres – Man of the Match.
2: CM Arthur Rogers – Drew Hartford level with an excellent goal and passed the ball well throughout a high energy performance in the engine room.
1: GK Parfait Mandanda – Came up with a big save to keep out Gamble and took control of his penalty area under a barrage of crosses and set plays.
3: RM Christian Sorto – Broke through the Hartford defense to assist on Loudoun’s goal and troubled the home defenders with his skill and end product consistently.
2: CM Elvis Amoh – Yet another star performance from the veteran midfielder who dominated in the middle third, winning plenty of ball and connecting defense and attack.
1: LM Josh Fawole – Scored the opening goal and looked in behind all game, showing pace and dribbling ability as Loudoun looked to add to the score.
HAR: Mandanda, Torres, SIlva, Strong (Politz), Lara, Johnson (Mesias), Downs, Rogers, Barrera (Jorgensen), Guzman, Dixon (Naglestad).
LOU: Lefebvre, Gabarra (Momoh), Lundegard (Wiedt), Mehl, Saravia, Gamble, Amoh (Ng’Anzi), Martinez (Gomez), Sorto, Ndour, Fawole (Fuentes).
You can find highlights of the game here.