Hartford Athletic opened their season with a 1-0 road win at New York Red Bulls II in Radhi Jaidi’s debut as head coach. A first goal for the club from Ever Guzman and an outstanding performance from goalkeeper Parfait Mandanda were enough to see Hartford take all three points, along with the last gasp assistance of a goalpost.
New York coach John Wolyniec fielded a mostly young lineup, with an entire bench that consisted of academy prospects. Former USA Under-20 international Sebastian Elney led the attack, with captain Kyle Zajec in the midfield of a 4-2-3-1 formation alongside Barry Sharifi and Caden Clark.
Jaidi lined Hartford up in a 3-5-2 with Guzman leading the attack alongside Alex Dixon, a former USL champion with the Rochester Rhinos in 2015. Mattheus Silva anchored the backline for Hartford, with the pair of Mads Jorgensen and Conor McGlynn forming the base of the midfield.
The Red Bulls won a free kick in the attacking half within 30 seconds of kickoff when Daniel Barrera fouled Zajec. Midfielder Zajec curled the free kick into the penalty area but Mandanda came off his line well to claim the ball and end any threat.
Hartford won a 5th minute corner when Tyreke Johnson switched the point of attack with a drive pass out to Harry Swartz on the right flank, and Joe Fala stepped over to challenge. Johnson’s first corner was headed behind by the Red Bulls, before Jorgensen’s corner was gathered at the second attempt by goalkeeper Wallis Lapsley.
New York won a corner of their own when Cherif Dieye dribbled down the left wing before being tackled. Zajec took the corner and his back post cross was punched away by Hartford keeper Mandanda.
The Red Bulls won another corner in the 10th minute when Sharifi chipped a ball forward to Dieye, only for Alex Davey to intervene and head it behind. The corner from Zajec found Preston Kilwien wide open at the back post, but the center back’s header was comfortably saved by Mandanda.
A good start from the Red Bulls continued and they won yet another corner in the 11th minute, when Dieye cut inside Swartz and had his shot from the edge of the area blocked behind by McGlynn. The Red Bulls worked a short corner that eventually found its way to Elney who was denied by an excellent Mandanda save.
The result of Mandanda’s sharp save was another Red Bull corner, but it was Hartford who would take the lead from the set play courtesy of a sharp counter attack.
Zajec curled the corner into the arms of Mandanda, and the Congo international goalkeeper made the Red Bulls pay by releasing Guzman in on goal with a sharp long punt.
The Red Bull central defensive pairing of Kilwien and Roy Boateng were badly staggered, allowing Guzman to play on the offside line isolated 1v1 before racing clear. Red Bull goalkeeper Lapsley came out of his penalty area aggressively and misjudged the ball, allowing Guzman to take a touch before tapping into an empty net.
New York responded by carving out a good chance in the 15th minute courtesy of some neat build up play. Zajec played forward to Elney who flicked the ball skilfully to Omar Sowe, only for the winger to fire his shot wide.
The young Red Bulls players were showing their quality, and they cut Hartford open again in the 18th minute, only to be denied by another good Mandanda save. Even in defeat, the Red Bulls showed consistent ability to go forward with quality and create chances throughout the game.
Sowe picked up the ball wide left and fed Elney inside the penalty area. The striker took a touch and teed up Clark at the penalty spot, before Mandanda denied the shot with an athletic save low to his right.
Hartford had a sight of goal in the 19th minute, when Jorgensen picked up an errant pass from Fala before firing in a deflected shot straight into the arms of Lapsley.
The Red Bull defensive line was vulnerable to a high ball forward for the opening goal, and Hartford were in again when McGlynn lifted a ball over the top. Left back Fala misjudged the flight of the ball, and Dixon slipped in behind before firing over a cross that was just out of the reach of Guzman.
The inability to maintain a disciplined offside line and defend runs in behind was an issue throughout the game for the disorganized Red Bulls backline.
For New York, Elney and Sowe were linking up well on the attacking end, and Elney drove forward in the 25h minute before playing in Sowe only for Mandanda to come off his line well and stuff the attack.
Sowe drove down the right flank soon after, reaching the byline before cutting back to Elney who fired the chance wide.
Hartford won a 36th minute corner when Johnson dribbled down the left flank before aiming a cross to Dixon at the back post, Kilwien intervened to clear the ball over his own crossbar. Southampton loanee Johnson took the corner and picked out Silva at the back post, but the Brazilian defender headed wide from close range.
New York won a shooting range free kick when Dieye cut inside off the left wing and was fouled by McGlynn. Dieye stepped up to take the free kick himself but curled his effort well over the crossbar.
Dieye was on the attack again less than a minute later, dribbling by Swartz before squaring the ball to Clark who had his shot deflected behind for a corner. Zajec sent over a hgh corner, only for another attack to be ended by a foul on Mandanda.
The young New York defenders were continuing to prove very vulnerable to balls in behind, and Barrera played a through ball to Dixon after intercepting a stray Edgardo Rito pass. Striker Dixon had pulled off the shoulder of Boateng and found plenty of room, only to drag his shot wide.
Halftime arrived and the statistics illustrated that the Red Bulls had the better of possession with 65% of the ball and a 12-5 advantage in shots. However, the strong presence of midfielder McGlynn in front of the back three was boosting Hartford, and the disorganization of the Red Bull backline meant that Hartford were a huge threat on the break all half.
McGlynn was proving a key factor in the game, winning physical challenges, negating Red Bull players in attacking positions and recycling possession well for his team.
Red Bulls coach Wolyniec made one substitution at halftime, replacing right winger Sowe with Deri Corfe.
The first chance of the second half was carved out by New York, with Clark playing in Corfe down the left channel before his ball across goal was side footed wide by Elney from six yards out.
Hartford defender Silva received a yellow card in the 53rd minute for a foul on Zajec while challenging for a loose ball around the halfway line.
Red Bull center back Kilwien picked out a good pass to Dieye in the 59th minute, only for the winger to fire his shot wide.
Corfe was making an early impact after his halftime arrival, and fired a shot wide after being set up by Sharifi.
Both teams made a double substitution in the 67th minute, with Jaidi replacing Swartz and Guzman with Arthur Rogers and Nicky Downs. Red Bull coach Wolyniec responded by replacing Clark and Rito with Jake LaCava and Samad Bounthong.
The vulnerability of the Red Bulls in behind continued as Mandanda launched a long goal kick forward that was flicked on by Jorgensen. Barrera latched onto it and dribbled into the penalty area before being tackled by Fala.
The distribution of goalkeeper Mandanda had been an important asset for Hartford throughout the game, including the assist on Guzman’s decisive goal.
Hartford won a throw in high up the field, and Rogers fed Barrera who span his defender before crossing to the back post where Dixon went down under a challenge from Boumthong, only for referee Joshua Encarnacion to call no foul on the play.
The Red Bulls made a substitution in the 77th minute, introducing 16 year old Dantouma Toure in place of Dieye. Hartford coach Jaidi shuffled his pack five minutes later, replacing striker Dixon with Dre Deas.
Dress made an impression immediately, and fired a shot on goal that was blocked by the arm of Kilwien, only for referee Encarnacion to call no penalty.
Red Bulls coach Wolyniec made his final roll of the dice in the 86th minute, handing another debut to an academy prospect when he introduced Daniel Edelman in place of Boateng.
Hartford appealed for an 89th minute penalty when Downs latched onto a Fala error and touched the ball around goalkeeper Lapsley before going to ground. Encarnacion called no foul and booked the former Yale University midfielder for diving.
Hartford made their final substitution as stoppage time began, bringing on Alex LAra in place of Jorgensen.
The match officials indicated seven minutes of injury time, and Hartford would have to ride out a spell of Red Bulls pressure before claiming all three points.
In the 95th minute, Corfe cut in off the left wing and fired a shot on goal that was blocked by Kevin Politz.
There was drama with the very last kick of the game, when Zajec was released down the right flank and cut the ball back. Corfe got on the end of it and curled a shot against the goalpost, before the rebound fell to Toure who shanked his shot wide as the final whistle blew.
POST GAME FALLOUT
Hartford coach Jaidi will have been delighted to collect all three points on the road in his coaching debut, and in veteran duo Mandanda and Guzman Hartford look to have two real impact players for the campaign ahead.
Work is there to be done for Jaidi, as it did take an excellent goalkeeping display and the width of a goalpost to seal the win. The coach will likely be looking for an improved performance in terms of possession and attacking in Athletic’s home opener against Loudoun United.
Red Bull coach Wolyniec will have been disappointed with the result, but his team did show some good ability going forward having 65% of the ball and a 20-6 advantage in shots throughout the game.
With that said, increased organization defensively and ability to compete in the physical aspects of the game would be a key part of these players’ development if they are truly to make an impact at the MLS level for the club.
Wolyniec would have been pleased to give out so many minutes to young prospects, as the team looks to produce the next prospect who follows in the footsteps of Red Bull academy graduates to make the national team like Tyler Adams and Timothy Weah.
12’ HAR Ever Guzman (Parfait Mandanda) 0-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#35 GK Parfait Mandanda (Hartford Athletic) – The goalkeeper capped an outstanding performance full of good saves by assisting on the game winning goal.
New York Red Bulls II
3: CF Sebastian Elney – The athletic forward showed threat in behind and linked well with both wingers during the attack. Improved finishing would have seen him net at least an equalizer for his team.
2: LM Cherif Dieye – Pacy winger who showed the ability to both drive forward on the dribble and cut inside to link with Elney.
1: CM Kyle Zajec – All action performance from the captain, covering a lot of ground and completing passes forward. Did struggle with the physical presence of McGlynn at times.
3: GK Parfait Mandanda – Man of the Match.
2: CM Conor McGlynn – Physically dominant performance from the midfielder in the Hartford engine room, winning plenty of possession and switching the point of attack well.
1: CF Ever Guzman – The former Under-17 World Cup champion and USL veteran won the game with his first goal for the club, and was threat in behind throughout, taking advantage of the disorganization of the New York defensive line time and again.