The Hartford Athletic soccer team was just minutes away from a shutout loss at the hands of Loudon United Sunday night at Dillon Stadium in Hartford.
But the Athletic scored two goals in the four minutes to salvage a 2-2 split in USL Championship action.
Playing his first game in Hartford, forward Markus Naglestad blasted a shot from 25 yards away on a free kick that just snuck into the goal past the diving Loudoun goalkeeper Simon Lefebvre with about four minutes left in regulation to cut the Louden United lead in half, 2-1.
Less than four minutes later, Hartford had another a free kick from 30 yards away. Again, Naglestad blasted the ball toward the net. This time, it hit the crossbar and bounced forward. Hartford forward Alex Dixon raced into the penalty area, dove forward and headed the ball into the net for the game-tying goal.
It was the second time this season that Hartford salvaged points after being down by two goals. The Athletic beat the Philadelphia Union II, 3-2 on July 25 at Dillon Stadium after giving up two goals in the first 15 minutes of the contest.
Hartford (5-1-1, 15 pts.) remains tied with Pittsburgh (5-3-1, 15) for first place in the USL Championship’s Group F with the New York Red Bulls II (2-6, 6) a distant third. The top two teams in each group qualify for the league playoffs in October.
Hartford hosts the Riverhounds on Friday night in the first meeting of the season between the two rivals at 7 p.m. at Dillon Stadium.
“I have mixed emotions,” Hartford coach Radhi Jaidi said. “If this is our worst performance and we still get a point, I will take it.
“The comeback was a relief and a positive,” he said. “It shows our will and desire to win and our resiliency. We never give up.”
Hartford signed Naglestad, 29, nine days ago on August 14 for some additional offensive punch. The 6-foot Norwegian had 25 goals playing in Norway this year. He first played in the United States at the age of 19 when he played at the University of Bridgeport, earning East Coast Conference offensive player of the year honors. He transferred to Providence can played two seasons.
He knew exactly where he wanted to put the ball on this first goal that was just inside the right post. “Usually the goalie will trust the wall a bit,” Naglestad said. “I took my opportunity at the near corner and it went in.”
On the second free kick, he was aiming to do the same thing. “If I do it right, it is going in,” he said.
It was a memorable USL Championship debut for Naglestad. “As a striker, you want to come in and turn the game,” he said. “It was a nice debut. They are always special.”
Louden United, which plays out of Leesburg, Virginia, took a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute. A free kick from Jeremy Garay was sent into the box and Shane Wiedt rose above the crowd of players and sent his header back into the left corner of the net.
Louden United (1-4-2) extended their lead to 2-0 with 21 minutes left in the game. Josh Fawole held up possession in the Athletic penalty area. The ball was stabbed away from the forward, but it bounced to the top of the penalty area where Elvis Amoh produced a spectacular first-time strike to the left corner of the net that appeared to have set United on its way to an important three points.
Hartford kept pressing after their two goals. Danny Barrera nearly won the game for the Athletic near the end of stoppage time, ripping a shot that Lefebvre deflected over the net. It resulted in a corner kick but nothing materialized from that opportunity.
Hartford remains undefeated against Louden this season with a 2-0-1 record. They play for a fourth and final time on September 5 at Dillon Stadium.
Hartford 2, Loudon United 2
Loudon United (1-4-2) 1 1 — 2
Hartford (5-1-1) 0 2 — 2
Goals: Loudon – Shane Wiedt 22nd minute (Jeremy Garay), Elvis Amoh, 74; Hartford – Markus Naglestad, 86, Alex Dixon 89; Shots: Hartford, 11-9; Corner kicks: Loudon 6-4; Saves: Parfait Mandanda (H) 2, Simon Lefebvre (L) 4
Upcoming Hartford Athletic games
Friday, Aug. 28: Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 5: Loudon United, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 12: at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.