Hartford Athletic took a huge step to playoff qualification with a 3-1 home win over New York Red Bulls II. Goals from Matheus Silva, Alex Dixon and Justin Haak paced the Athletic, while Jake LaCava netted New York’s lone score.
Hartford came into the game holding second place and the upper hand in the Group F playoff race over their opponents. Holding a 7 point lead with a game in hand, a win here would have Hartford on the brink of sealing qualification into the postseason.
After a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Pittsburgh Riverhounds, coach Radhi Jaidi made three changes as his team looked to return to winning ways. Dixon was recalled to the attack in place of Tyreke Johnson, while Aiden Mesias and recent signing Idan Cohen earned their first starts of the season.
New York needed a win here, and would not be lacking confidence having beaten Philadelphia Union II 6-0 in their last outing, a performance coach John Wolyniec called their “most complete of the season.”
The Red Bulls made two changes from that game, with Edgar Rito and Dantouma Toure being drafted in to replace Cherif Dieye and Boima Cummins. Striker Omar Sowe unsurprisingly kept his place leading the attack, having netted his first professional hat-trick in the victory over Philadelphia.
The first attack of the game came in the 3rd minute when Sam Strong lifted a ball forward to Dixon. The striker who had checked deep to receive possession took the ball on his chest before turning upfield and spreading a pass wide left. The pass was received by Gabriel Torres, a player in good form of late and the Brazilian wingback cut inside Rito before launching a shot into the side netting.
New York came forward in the 8th minute and Toure went down under a lunging tackle from Strong. Sowe confronted Strong after the play but no foul was called by referee Thomas Snyder. Toure collected the ball from the resulting throw in and dribbled to the byline before cutting the ball back to Sowe who was denied from close range by an excellent Silva tackle.
Hartford countered immediately and Daniel Barrera sprayed a pass out to Torres. Both strikers were waiting in front of goal but the low cross from Torres was diverted away by a sliding Joseph Zalinsky.
Torres was involved again when he took a throw in to Barrera and received the ball back before being fouled by Barry Sharifi.
Hartford took the lead from the resulting free kick when Cohen swung in a cross and Silva powered through a crowd to head home from close range. Silva ran over immediately after the goal to celebrate with coach Jaidi. This goal was just one aspect of an impressive display from the Brazilian who defended strongly all night.
Athletic came forward in the 13th minute when Dixon again checked deep and turned upfield. Dixon played in strike partner Ever Guzman who carried the ball to the edge of the penalty area before having his shot blocked by Zalinsky.
The home team won a corner when Dixon collected a pass from Mesias and drove to the byline before being tackled by left back John Tolkin. Barrera swung in a corner that Wallis Lapsley punched away before a shot from Mesias was blocked by Rito on the edge of the area.
New York won a wide free kick when Silva was adjudged to have handled the ball during a slide tackle on Rito. Captain Barrera swung in the free kick but his cross into the penalty area was headed away by Torres. Rito was on the attack again a minute later but his cross was this time headed away by Strong before Torres finished the job by hacking it clear.
Cohen picked up the ball wide right for Hartford in the 26th minute and passed to Mesias who drove forward and fired a shot straight at Lapsley.
The play showcased an element of Mesias’ game that he had already displayed in flashes from the bench this season. The skilled midfielder opened up to face goal on his first touch and has the ability to dribble at opponents and create chances.
The chances kept coming for Hartford and Barrera used the outside of his foot to pay Dixon in behind only for the striker to drag his shot well wide of the target.
The Red Bulls threatened in the 30th minute when Tolkin carried the ball forward before teeing up LaCava to open up on his touch and fire at goal. The striker was denied by a diving Parfait Mandanda save, Toure picked up the rebound but drove his shot into the side netting.
New York right back Rito pushed forward in the 40th minute but lost possession with a heavy touch and received a yellow card for dragging down Mesias while trying to win the ball back.
Hartford wingback Cohen skipped past Christopher Lema on the right flank before squaring the ball to Barrera on the edge of the penalty area. Barrera took a touch before firing a shot that was comfortably saved by Lapsley.
The home team picked up a yellow card of their own in the 43rd minute when central midfielder Haak was booked for a hard foul on Toure.
Lema took the free kick short to Tolkin who chipped a ball forward to Joseph Fala only for the ball to sail into the hands of Mandanda.
Minutes later Hartford midfielder Haak showcased his strength in a more positive manner for his team, when he played a key role in Athletic doubling their lead. Haak received a pass under tight pressure from Caden Clark and used his body well to shield the ball before dropping a pass to Kevin Politz. The center back looked up and found Dixon who checked to receive the pass and turned upfield to dribble and fire a shot from the edge of the penalty area that slipped through Lapsley’s hands and into the net.
It is clear that the physical presence of NYC FC loanee Haak has added steel and bite in the Hartford midfield during the two games he has played so far.
The goal was just one more example of Dixon’s movement causing problems for New York. The striker checked deep and found space in dangerous areas and was able to drive at the back line after receiving the ball in space. The score also moved Dixon level with Guzman on 4 goals for the team lead this season.
New York tried to respond before halftime and LaCava dribbled forward before teeing up Clark on the edge of the penalty area only for the midfielder to guide his shot straight at Mandanda.
It was a lively end to the first half for LaCava, who dribbled forward and chipped over a cross that Torres hacked clear, before firing a shot wide less than a minute later.
Halftime arrived and Hartford went in at the break with a two goal lead, knowing a win here would put them right on the brink of securing a playoff spot.
No personnel changes were made by either team at the break, and Red Bull forward LaCava started the second half as he finished the first, firing the first shot of the period and drawing a save from Mandanda.
Wingback Torres received a yellow card in the 54th minute for a foul on Rito. Sharifi sent in a cross from the free kick that Politz hacked away, before a second ball into the penalty area was cleared behind for a corner by Strong. The corner from Lema went all the way to Toure at the back post, but the young forward lost possession with a heavy touch.
The Red Bulls came forward with a sweeping end to end move when Rito won possession from a Hartford throw in and the ball was eventually worked to LaCava who drove into the penalty area before firing a shot wide.
New York won a 64th minute corner when LaCava entered the penalty area again and was tackled by Strong. Lema sent in a low corner that found its way to LaCava who tucked the ball home from close range.
While it was Lema who got the assist on the goal, striker Sowe played a key role as his front zone run caused the first defender to miss the ball and cleared the path for the corner to find its way to LaCava.
With Athletic’s lead cut to 2-1 and the result back in the balance, both coaches made their first substitutions of the game in the aftermath of the goal.
Hartford coach Jaidi withdrew wingback Cohen and introduced Arthur Rogers who scored a goal and played well in Hartford’s last home game. Red Bulls coach Wolyniec replaced Sharifi and Toure with Deri Corfe and Dieye.
With both teams pushing to boost their playoff hopes, the game was hotly contested and both teams received a yellow card within a minute of each other. Hartford captain Barrera was booked for leaving a foot in on Lema, while New York midfielder Clark went into referee Snyder’s book for dragging down Torres.
Hartford made their second substitution of the game in the 73rd minute when Mesias was removed from central midfield and replaced by Mads Jorgensen.
New York continued to push for an equalizer, and once again it was LaCava leading the charge. The striker took a touch away from Haak on the edge of the penalty area before having his shot blocked by Strong.
Athletic went down the other end and won what would be a pivotal corner when Fala took too long in possession and was harried by Torres into conceding a corner.
The corner from Rogers was headed down by Strong before Silva’s shot looped into the air off Zalinsky before Haak volleyed it home to give the home team a 3-1 lead.
Hartford made a double substitution after the goal as coach Jaidi looked to close out the win. The fresh legs of Markus Naglestad and Nicky Downs were brought on to replace Dixon and Barrera.
Hartford won a corner when an attacking cross from Rogers was deflected behind by Tolkin. Torres sent in the corner but his cross was headed away by Fala.
LaCava sparked another Red Bull attack when he found Dieye on the edge of the area who teed up Corfe for a shot that was saved by Mandanda. The resulting corner fell to Dieye but he lost his footing as he guided a shot wide of the target.
Sowe had another New York chance minutes later but his shot was deflected behind by the impressive Silva. The corner was half cleared by Silva to the edge of the penalty area and fell to Clark who guided his shot well off target.
Red Bulls coach Wolyniec made his final change in the 90th minute when Rito was replaced by Cummins.
The match officials signaled for 6 minutes of stoppage time and Red Bulls pushed for a way back into the game. Lema fed Sowe inside the penalty area but his shot was blocked by Silva and cleared by Strong.
Tolkin swung a cross into the Hartford box and a wayward defensive header by Torres fell to Corfe who fired a bicycle kick effort over the crossbar.
As the Red Bulls chased the game, center back Fala was moved up to center forward, and he teed up Corfe 20 yards out only for the final shot to once again miss the target.
Corfe was a key figure in stoppage time and was found by a Sowe cross, but his long range header rolled harmlessly into the arms of goalkeeper Mandanda.
Time expired and Hartford sealed three points that struck a crucial blow in the Group F playoff race, leaving the Athletic 7 points clear of New York having played one less game.
This win meant Hartfors needed only three more points to guarantee a playoff spot, an objective that would be in the front of their minds for their weekend trip to Philadelphia Union II.
The Red Bulls were left hoping for help from the Union II result on Sunday, to keep their mathematical hopes alive ahead of their own next game, a tough road trip to face Atlanta United II.
11’ HAR Matheus Silva (Idan Cohen) 1-0
45+1’ HAR Alex Dixon (Kevin Politz) 2-0
64’ NYR Jake LaCava (Christopher Lema) 2-1
75’ HAR Justin Haak (Matheus Silva) 3-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#3 CD Matheus Silva (Hartford Athletic) – Dominant defensive display for the tough tackling Brazilian was capped by a goal and assisting on Haak’s goal to seal the 3-1 scoreline.
3: CD Matheus Silva – Man of the Match.
2: CM Justin Haak – The loan signing has significantly improved the defensive level of Hartford’s engine room, and showed quality on the ball all night before netting his team’s third goal.
1: LM Gabriel Torres – The high energy wingback was impactful on both ends of the ball and is becoming a real force for Jaidi’s men with his recent form.
New York Red Bulls II
3: RM Jake LaCava – LaCava was New York’s chief attacking threat and kept the Hartford defense alert all night while also netting his team’s lone score.
2: CM Christopher Lema – Hard working performance by Lema who was also a threat at set plays, sending in the corner that created LaCava’s goal.
1: RD Edgar Rito – Not the best defensive night for the Red Bulls, but right back Rito worked hard all night and was consistently a focal point as New York went forward in attack.
HAR: Mandanda, Torres, Silva, Politz, Strong, Cohen (Rogers), Mesias (Jorgensen), Haak, Barrera (Downs), Guzman, Dixon (Naglestad).
NYR: Lapsley, Rito (Cummins), Zalinsky, Fala, Tolkin, Sharifi (Corfe), Lema, Clark, Toure (Dieye), LaCava, Sowe.