Hartford Athletic returned to winning ways with a resounding 4-1 home victory over winless Loudoun United at Dillon Stadium. Leading goal scorer Ever Guzman netted two goals for Hartford, before an Elvis Amoh penalty brought the score back to 2-1. A second half goal from Daniel Barrera, and a first professional goal for Alfonso Vazquez completed the scoring and left Hartford three points clear at the top of USL Championship Group F.
Hartford coach Radhi Jaidi made four changes after the 4-1 defeat at Indy Eleven in midweek. Kevin Politz and Alex Lara were drafted into the defensive line of a 3-5-2 system, while Mads Jorgensen replaced Arthur Rogers in central midfield. Gabriel Torres was recalled to the starting lineup and replaced Tyreke Johnson on the left wing.
Loudoun had been inactive for two weeks, with their last game being a 3-1 defeat in Hartford in July. Amoh had played as a center forward in that game and scored Loudoun’s only goal from the penalty spot, but was dropped back into central midfield for this game in place of Brandon Williamson. Theodore Ku-DiPietro led the attack with wingers Massimo Ferrin and debutant Kairou Amoustapha flanking him in a 4-2-3-1 system.
Hartford showed no signs of a hangover from their midweek road trip, and took a 7th minute lead courtesy of Guzman’s third goal of the season.
Chief playmaker Barrera dropped deep and collected a pass from Torres before driving forward and playing a through ball to Guzman. Mexican striker Guzman stripped young center back Adam Lundegard for pace and rolled a neat finish past Colin Miller in the Loudoun goal to open the scoring.
The Hartford front pair of Guzman and Alex Dixon were making penetrative runs behind in the early going, and it paid off again when the home team won a penalty in the 10th minute. The pace of the Hartford strikers, and ability of the midfielders behind to find them was a real problem for Loudoun throughout the game.
Torres controlled the ball and sent a pass forward to Dixon who took a touch past Miller before being dragged down by the goalkeeper as referee Jeremy Scheer pointed to the spot.
The disorganization of the Loudoun defensive line was showing already, as left back Peabo Doue tried to hold an offside line, but central defender Shane Wiedt sunk a yard or two deeper to hold Dixon onside before the through ball was played.
Guzman stepped up to take the spot kick, but Miller made amends for his foul with a diving save that held the score at 1-0.
Hartford came again when Dixon showed good strength before playing in Torres who cut back to Barrera near the penalty spot. Captain Barrera had his initial shot blocked by Doue before heading the rebound directly at Miller.
Loudoun were struggling to get forward with quality in the opening period of the game. They showed intent to build out of the back and had some good technical players, but a lack of effective movement from the midfield three meant the ball carrier had few short options and they failed to break Hartford lines.
In some instances, the Loudoun fullback found himself in possession with all three central midfielders running away from the ball, offering no short option to build the play.
The rampant start from the home team continued and Guzman doubled Hartford’s lead in the 18th minute with an excellent finish.
Barrera picked up the ball and split the Loudoun back line with another well weighted through ball, and Guzman beat Lundegard for pace again before chipping the ball over Miller and into the net.
Loudoun hit back and won a penalty kick of their own in the 21st minute. Ku-DiPietro got in down the left flank and squared to Torres who fired a shot against the base of the goalpost. The rebound fell to Ku-DiPietro who went down under a lunging challenge from Matheus Silva, and referee Scheer whistled for a penalty due to Silva handling during the follow through of the tackle.
Amoh stepped up to roll the spot kick past Parfait Mandanda and peg the score back to 2-1. It was only Loudoun’s second goal of the season to date, with both goals being penalty kicks scored by Amoh at the same end of Dillon Stadium.
Loudoun came forward again but some neat interplay was stifled by an offside flag being raised against Ferrin.
Right back Jacob Greene came forward and put a cross in that was hacked clear by Conor McGlynn. Doue was setting himself up to put a second ball into the area but was harried by Hartford striker Guzman who made a 20 yard sprint back to press the ball. Guzman followed that by pressing Lundegard and then goalkeeper Miller, expending the energy required to make things easier for the midfield behind him on the defensive end. The phase of play was an example of the work rate it takes to be a top level striker.
Dixon was tackled on the edge of the penalty area by Wiedt in the 34th minute, the rebound fell to Jorgensen who blasted a shot high over the crossbar.
The game was opening up and Loudoun were quickly down the other end with Amoustapha driving down the right flank. Silva slowed up the attack before Loudoun switched the point of attack and left back Doue lifted a shot over the bar.
Amoh drove past halfway before playing in Ferrin soon after, and the winger was denied by a combination of Lara and Politz.
McGlynn won a tackle on the edge of his own penalty area before leading Guzman down the left flank with a long pass. The ball was worked to right wingback Harry Swartz via Barrera, only for Swartz to have his shot saved by Miller.
Hartford came again when Swartz played a through ball to Dixon who’s ball across goal was diverted wide by Guzman at the back post.
Former Syracuse University winger Ferrin was one of Loudoun’s more dangerous attackers, and came forward before having his long range shot saved by Mandanda in the 43rd minute.
Hartford defender Lara received the first yellow card of the game in the 45th minute, when he was booked by Scheer for a reckless lunge on Michael Gamble.
Loudoun won a corner when Amoh sprayed a good long pass wide before Silva knocked a cross behind. The deep corner found its way to Amoustapha outside the back post and his cross back into the area was headed clear by Lara.
Loudoun’s disorganized offside line was exposed again in stoppage time when left back Doue was caught high and Lara played Dixon in behind. Striker Dixon drove to the byline before his cross was cleared by Wiedt.
Hartford went into halftime with a well deserved lead, and striker Guzman would come out for the second half knowing one more goal would see him register the first hat-trick in club history.
Loudoun coach Ryan Martin would be looking for defensive improvements in the second half, and made a change to his back line by replacing Lundegard with Timmy Mehl.
Young center back Lundegard is a very talented player and a highly touted D.C. United academy product. To effectively make the step up to the professional level, he must show more ability to drop off when the ball is about to be played in behind and give himself a cushion by reading ball pressure and body language. Failure to do this against mobile strikers such as Guzman will leave him very vulnerable to runs in behind.
Mehl announced his arrival into the game with a hard foul from behind on Dixon. Jorgensen took the free kick but his long range shot was blocked by Ferrin on the edge of the penalty area.
Loudoun midfielder Amoh received a yellow card in the 56th minute for a clumsy foul on McGlynn. While McGlynn was down receiving treatment, Loudoun coach Martin made his second switch of the game, replacing Ferrin with Alioune Ndour.
Ndour showcased his pace by racing in behind onto a Ku-DiPietro pass, but the overhit through ball was scooped up by Mandanda.
McGlynn was stretchered off as a result of the Amoh challenge and was replaced by Nicky Downs. Swartz was also withdrawn by coach Jaidi and replaced with Johnson.
The double substitution also brought about a change of shape from Hartford, and saw them implement a back four for the first time all season. Torres dropped into left back while Dixon was deployed in a right midfielder role, leaving Guzman as a lone striker in a 4-4-1-1 shape.
Loudoun won a corner when Gamble drove down the left flank before his low cross was diverted behind by Lara. Wiedt headed Gamble’s deep corner back across the goal before the whistle was blown for a high foot by Amoh.
Johnson’s pace was utilized immediately by Barrera who played the Southampton loanee into the left hand channel, but Johnson’s shot from a tight angle was saved comfortably by Miller.
Hartford came again and Dixon beat Doue out wide and crossed for Guzman, only for Mehl to intervene with a strong tackle. The rebound fell to Jorgensen who played a cleverly disguised one touch pass for Barrera to take a touch and finish, stretching the home team’s lead to 3-1.
The goal capped a remarkable run of form for playmaker Barrera, who has now registered 4 assists and 1 goal in his last two home games. His season assist total of 5 has him ranked 2nd in the entire USL Championship league behind only Kenardo Forbes (7) of Group F rival Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
Loudoun coach Martin responded to the goal by replacing the impressive Amoh in central midfield with Williamson.
Loudoun won a shooting range free kick when Ndour was tripped by Lara on the edge of the penalty area. Ndour stepped up to take the free kick himself but lifted his shot over the crossbar.
Loudoun made two more substitutions at the hydration break, introducing Allexon Saravia and Christian Sorto in place of Jeremy Garay and Doue.
Loudoun won an 81st minute corner when Ndour was played in by Amoustapha only for Silva to step over and knock the ball behind. The corner failed to beat the first man and was headed away by Politz at the near post.
Loudoun continued to fight and won a free kick when Ndour combined with Gamble before being fouled on the edge of the penalty area by Lara. The free kick was chipped to the back post in the direction of Wiedt only for Mandanda to come off his line and claim it.
Hartford coach Jaidi freshened up his attack with a double substitution in the 86th minute, introducing homegrown prospect Vazquez and Dre Deas in place of Guzman and Dixon.
Hartford won an 88th minute corner when Downs was found by Deas inside the penalty area before Mehl made the tackle. Barrera swung in the corner kick, before the threat was ended by an attacking foul whistled on Silva.
Loudoun responded when the lively Ndour was found by Gamble before dribbling past Politz and lifting his shot high over the bar.
Defender Wiedt lifted a ball forward to Sorto, and the winger took a touch before having his shot saved by Mandanda. Hartford defender Lara was injured during the attack and was replaced by Aiden Mesias in what would be Jaidi’s final substitution of the game.
In the final minute of stoppage time Hartford rounded out the scoring, and gave the crowd a real feel good moment when hometown hero Vazquez netted his first professional goal to make it 4-1.
Deas drove to the byline and cut back to Vazquez, who took the ball on his chest before rifling home a thunderous finish off the underside of the crossbar.
The goal showcased clever ‘movement’ by the young striker, who actually created the chance by knowing when not to move. The penetration of Deas to the byline caused defender Mehl to sink towards his own goal, and by standing still Vazquez allowed himself the space to take a touch and fire the ball home.
Hartford returned to winning ways after a tough midweek loss in Indianapolis, and opened up a three point gap at the top of Group F with this victory. The goals by Barrera and Vazquez mean that Hartford have now scored 12 goals this season, with those goals coming from nine different scorers.
The next game for Hartford is a road trip to winless Philadelphia Union II on Sunday, a team they beat in a dramatic 3-2 comeback win at Dillon Stadium in July.
Winless Loudoun looked good going forward but have massive issues in the defensive line that coach Martin will be looking to shore up ahead of their next game on August 12th at New York Red Bulls II. Mehl played well off the bench and would be fighting for a place in the starting lineup ahead of that game.
Amoh has shown the ability to make an impact both as a striker and central midfielder, and will be a key figure if Loudoun are to turn their results around as the season progresses.
7’ HAR Ever Guzman (Daniel Barrera) 1-0
18’ HAR Ever Guzman (Daniel Barrera) 2-0
21’ LOU Elvis Amoh PK (Theodore Ku-DiPietro) 2-1
66’ HAR Daniel Barrera (Mads Jorgensen) 3-1
90+8’ HAR Alfonso Vazquez (Dre Deas) 4-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#10 CM Daniel Barrera (Hartford Athletic) – A performance full of craft and guile from Barrera, who registered two assists and a goal in an impressive display.
3: CM Daniel Barrera – Man of the Match.
2: CF Ever Guzman – The clever movement and pace in behind of Guzman led to two goals from the team’s leading scorer, moving Guzman to four on the season.
1: CM Mads Jorgensen – The physical midfielder was active in the attack for Hartford, firing off a number of shots and producing a clever assist for Barrera’s goal.
3: CM Elvis Amoh – Having already played well as a striker in Loudoun’s first trip to Dillon Stadium this season, Amoh showcased versatility by putting in an even better performance as a central midfielder. On top of his goal, Amoh showcased good passing range and defensive work rate in an excellent performance.
2: CF Theodore Ku-DiPietro – Won the penalty for Amoh’s goal and showed good skill to control the ball in tight spaces as a forward.
1: LM Massimo Ferrin – Hit the post with one chance and attacked well throughout, linking with teammates and providing consistent crosses and shots.