Hartford Athletic continued their perfect start to the USL Championship season with a thrilling 3-2 comeback victory over Philadelphia Union II. Yomi Scintu and Axel Picazo fired Philadelphia into an early lead, before goals from Gabriel Torres and Mads Jorgensen pegged the score back to level at halftime. Veteran striker Ever Guzman netting a winning goal early in the second half to give Hartford all three points.
Coach Radhi Jaidi lined his Hartford team up in a 3-5-2 and made four changes after their 3-1 win over Loudoun United last time out. Sam Strong replaced Alex Davey in the back three, while Jorgensen and Arthur Rogers were drafted into midfield in place of Nicky Downs and the injured Harry Swartz. Striker Guzman was recalled in place of Alex Dixon up front, and was paired in attack with Southampton loanee Tyreke Johnson.
The Union lined up in a 4-4-2 and would be looking for an improved defensive showing after losing their last two games by a combined 11-1 score at the hands of Pittsburgh Riverhounds and New York Red Bulls II respectively.
Ben Martino was recalled to start in goal behind the central defensive pairing of Benjamin Ofeimu and Jamoi Topey. Jack McGlynn started in central midfield and would be finding himself in a direct head to head battle against his older brother Conor, a Hartford midfielder.
Hartford dominated possession in the early stages but a big error allowed Philadelphia to take a 4th minute lead. Hartford defender Matheus Silva played a lateral pass to Kevin Politz on the edge of his own penalty area while being pressed by Nathan Harriel. A flat footed Politz let the ball roll past him and Scintu latched onto it before rolling a sidefooted finish past Parfait Mandanda.
Hartford had a penalty appeal in the 8th minute, when Guzman made a run in behind and was played in by Rogers before going down under contact from Topey. Referee Thomas Snyder called no foul and the result was a Union goal kick.
Goal scorer Scintu had been caught on the ankle by a lunging Politz in the aftermath of the goal, and would limp off injured as a result. His replacement was USA Under-17 national team player Luis Flores.
The substitution also saw a very early change in shape from the Union, with Flores central midfield role, and Selmir Miscic now the lone forward in a 4-1-4-1 system.
Philadelphia won an 11th minute corner when Issa Rayyan was tackled by Silva wide on the right. Jack McGlynn took the corner and it was cleared at the near post by his brother Conor, before falling to Rayann who had his shot held by a diving Mandanda.
The Union doubled their lead in the 16th minute, and again it was the result of a Hartford turnover. Torres came in off the wing and played an errant pass backwards that went straight to Miscic. The forward dropped a pass back to Rayyan who released Flores with a through ball. Substitute Flores beat Politz to the byline and cut the ball back to a wide open Picazo who made it 2-0.
Coach Jaidi and his Hartford team left themselves open to questions of complacency in the early going. Having come into this game 2-0, and making changes to the lineup against a winless opponent, that was always going to be a point of discussion, especially with a midweek road trip looming against a quality Indy Eleven team. Going 2-0 down early, with each goal including an error only reinforced that narrative.
Hartford won a 21st minute corner when Rogers was challenged by Dante Huckaby. Johnson’s corner was punched away by Martino, and a second cross into the area by Torres was headed over the bar by Daniel Barrera. Rogers was dribbling at Huckaby again minutes later and crossed into the penalty area where Johnson headed over.
Philadelphia goal scorer Picazo won a corner under a challenge from Strong, Jack McGlynn’s corner was caught comfortably by Mandanda. Goalkeeper Mandanda tried to replicate his opening day assist by launching a punt forward for Guzman to chase, but Union defender Harriel cleared up the danger.
Hartford center back Silva was booked by referee Snyder in the 29th minute for a clash with Harriel while challenging for a high ball.
After a slow start, Hartford were cajoled by a visibly animated Jaidi at the first half hydration break.
Union winger Rayyan picked up the ball inside his own half in the 34th minute, and carried it into the penalty area as Hartford defenders backed off before firing a shot over the bar.
At the other end, Hartford midfielder Barrera chipped a pass in behind for Guzman to chase, but Union goalkeeper Martino was quick off his line to gather the ball.
Barrera was finding plenty of space between the Union lines and helped to pull Hartford back into the game in the 39th minute, receiving a pass from Rogers before a ball in behind for Torres who took a touch before blasting the ball home to bring the scoreline back to 2-1.
Hartford were level four minutes later courtesy of a long range strike from Jorgensen. Philadelphia backed off in midfield and the ball was played out wide to Torres. The wingback’s cross was headed clear by Huckaby, but the ball fell to Jorgensen who hit a thunderous strike past a wrongfooted Martino to level the scores.
The half ended with a Philadelphia corner, but Jack McGlynn’s inswinger was headed over the bar by David Rabadan and the teams went into the halftime break tied at 2-2.
After a poor start, the experience of Hartford over their younger Union opponents was beginning to show, and the home team would be pushing to gain all three points in the second half.
Philadelphia carved out the first attack of the second half, with the ball being worked wide to Rayyan who’s cross was claimed by Mandanda.
Hartford took a 53rd minute lead courtesy of veteran striker Guzman, and once again it was Barrera picking the lock with a well weighted through ball.
Wingback Rogers bundled past several defenders before finding Barrera, who turned upfied and split the defense with a slide rule pass. Guzman had pulled off the shoulder of Ofeimu and beat Martino at his near post with a powerful strike.
There was a high concentration of youth national team stars touted for bright futures on the field for Philadelphia, but Guzman had once been every bit as bright a prospect. The Hartford forward was a 2005 Under-17 World Cup champion with his native Mexico.
Guzman was now at the other end of his professional career, and the extra guile and experience was showing through. The Union defenders had visible athletic advantages over him in terms of size, strength and speed, but Guzman was able to constantly find space, pulling off their shoulders and out of sightlines, making penetrative runs in behind with success all games.
Barrera was soon on the ball again and picked open the young Union backline, this time finding Johnson who went down inside the area under a challenge from Ofeimu, only for referee Snyder to call no penalty.
Johnson won a corner when he was challenged by Topey at the byline. Johnson took the corner himself and his cross was cleared by Topey, Torres lifted the ball back into the area, and Strong knocked the ball down for Guzman only for the striker to fire his shot well wide of the target.
In the 59th minute, Union coach Sven Gartung introduced a trio of academy products when he subbed on Paxten Aaronson, Brandan Craig and Quinn Sullivan for Miscic, Harriel and Picazo.
Philadelphia won a free kick for a foul on Flores by the struggling Politz. Jack McGlynn chipped the free kick into the penalty area and the ball fell to Aaronson who fired a shot just wide.
Coach Jaidi changed up the Hartford attack in the 64th minute, bringing on Dre Deas in place of match winner Guzman.
Referee Snyder gave out a somewhat unique yellow card in the 66th minute, when Conor McGlynn was booked for a foul on his younger brother Jack.
The home team won a corner when a Barrera pass aimed for Rogers was diverted behind by Topey. Johnson took the corner but Silva’s header against the crossbar was rendered meaningless by an attacking foul whistled on Hartford.
Jaidi made another substitution at the hydration break, bringing on Alex Lara in place of Rogers on the right wing.
Hartford kept coming forward and a Torres cross was punched clear by Martino, before Craig headed away a second ball into the box from Barrera.
Substitute Deas made his presence felt by finding Barrera with a pass before the captain lifted his shot over the bar.
Philadelphia won a corner when Jack McGlynn played in Flores and Politz knocked the ball behind. Flores got on the end of McGlynn’s corner but his near post flick rolled just wide of the target.
Torres was played in down the left flank in the 80th minute and crossed to the back post where Deas had his shot saved by Martino. The rebound fell to Lara who’s strike on goal was deflected behind for a corner. Jorgensen got on the end of Johnson’s corner, only for Union goalkeeper Martino to make the save.
Both coaches made their last substitutions as the game entered its final minutes. Union coach Gartung subbed on Steve Kingue for Rabadan, while Jaidi replaced Barrera and Johnson with Nicky Downs and Alfonso Vazquez.
This was the professional debut of 18 year old Vazquez who had already made some waves in the state of Connecticut. Before becoming Hartford’s youngest ever professional signing, the exciting prospect broke the state’s all-time high school goal scoring record with 149 goals in four season’s for Windham High School.
Vazquez was involved early, playing in Jorgensen who advanced into the penalty area before having his shot saved by Martino.
Hartford won a late free kick for a foul on Jorgensen by Kingue. Jorgensen took the free kick but lifted his shot over the bar, and the clock ticked down on a third straight win to open the season for Jaidi and his team.
After a shaky start, Hartford stayed on track for a perfect start to the season with this victory ahead of a tough midweek trip to Indianapolis. Hartford have now scored 7 goals from 6 different players, but Jaidi will be looking to shore things up at the back after this game.
Having been impressive in recent games, Alex DIxon, Davey and Swartz will all be pushing for recalls to the starting lineup in midweek.
Philadelphia remained winless on the season, but coach Gartung will have been very pleased with the spirited display from his young players on the back of two heavy beatings in the game prior. As they look to improve results, the Union continues to give minutes to their youth academy prospects at the professional level.
4’ PHI Yomi Scintu 0-1
16’ PHI Axel Picazo (Luis Flores) 0-2
39’ HAR Gabriel Torres (Daniel Barrera) 1-2
43’ HAR Mads Jorgensen 2-2
53’ HAR Ever Guzman (Daniel Barrera) 3-2
MAN OF THE MATCH
#10 CM Daniel Barrera (Hartford Athletic) – The former USA Under-18 national team player pulled strings all night for Hartford, finding space between the mines and capping an excellent performance with two assists including on the game winner.
3: CM Daniel Barrera – Man of the Match.
2: CF Ever Guzman – The veteran striker found space all night against the young Philadelphia back line, and scored the game winning goal early in the second half.
1: LM Gabriel Torres – The left winger scored Hartford’s opener and was a consistent source of crosses into the box for Athletic.
Philadelphia Union II
3: RM Issa Rayyan – A quality performance from the right midfielder, working on the defensive end while contributing to the attack with quality all night.
2: CM Jack McGlynn – Composed on the ball, McGlynn did well on the offensive end when Philadelphia pushed forward.
1: LM Axel Picazo – Skilled player who scored a good goal to give Philadelphia a fast start and 2-0 lead.
HAR: Mandanda, Silva, Politz, Strong, Torres, C McGlynn, Barrera (Downs), Jorgensen, Rogers (Lara), Johnson (Vazquez), Guzman (Deas).
PHI: Martino, Huckaby, Topey, Ofeimu, Harriel (Craig), Picazo (Sullivan), Rabadan (Kingue), J McGlynn, Rayyan, Scintu (Flores), Miscic (Aaronson).
HIGHLIGHTS (from Philadelphia Union website)