HARTFORD, Dec. 8 , 2020 – The Hartford Athletic has announced the signings of three players as the squad builds upon their first winning season and playoff berth in 2020.
Danny Barrera, the captain and team MVP, will return for a third season next spring for the Athletic along with defender Alex Lara and midfielder Gabriel Torres.
Hartford is looking to build on their 11-4-2 record in 2020 and first-ever USL Championship playoff berth during a pandemic-shortened season. The Athletic went 5-0-1 in their final six games of the season to win Group F.
Barrera leads the club in career assists with 11. He had a team-leading seven assists this summer for Hartford along with two goals. Barrera has scored five goals dressed in the Green and Blue. His most notable goal was “the Immaculate Deflection” when he stretched out his leg and deflected a pass back over the head of Philadelphia Union II goalie and back into the net in the 90th minute to give the Athletic a key 3-2 win on Sept. 30.
It put Hartford in first place in Group F and put the Athletic in position to win the group and secure a home playoff game at Dillon Stadium.
“Hartford truly feels like home to me and I am thrilled to be able to continue my career here,” Barrera said. “Making the playoffs was our goal in 2020 and in 2021 our goal is to make a run at the USL Championship final. We’re ready to build off of the success of last season and come back even stronger next year.”
“Aside from making the most iconic play in our club’s short history, Danny is a proven leader and a strong veteran presence in our locker room. He will be an important piece for us on the pitch again this season,” said Bruce Mandell, chairman of the team.
Torres, who was named the team’s most improved player after the season, played primarily at left wingback in coach Radhi Jaïdi’s 3-5-2 system this summer and had two goals and two assists.
Twice, Torres was named to the USL Championship Team of the Week twice. In week 5, he had a goal, an assist and six key passes in wins over Philadelphia Union II and Loudoun United. In week 10, he scored the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over Loudoun United on Sept. 5.
“I am very excited to be able to continue my career in Hartford in front of the best fans in the world,” Torres said.
Lara appeared in 13 games in his rookie season making six starts for Hartford. He recorded his first professional assist on Sept. 5, against Loudoun United, delivering a beautiful cross to Torres for the game-winning goal.
A few weeks later, Lara ran uncovered to the back post to tap home a Mads Jørgensen corner kick for his first professional goal against Philadelphia Union II on Sept. 30. Lara finished in the top four on the team in clearances, blocks, interceptions and tackles won.
“My first professional season was one I will never forget. I am excited to continue to grow as a player and help us make a deep playoff run next year,” Lara said.
Other returning players and new player signings will be announced in the coming weeks.
COVID-19 Leaves League Without Champion
Hartford was eliminated, 1-0, in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals by Saint Louis, FC a lame duck team in their final season. The club will fold because a Major League Soccer team is coming to St. Louis in 2022.
The following week, Saint Louis was eliminated by Louisville, 2-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. A week earlier, Louisville eliminated Hartford’s Group F rival, Pittsburgh, 2-0.
Tampa Bay won the Eastern Conference and advanced to the USL Championship match with a 1-0 win over the Charleston Battery.
But the USL Championship final between Tampa Bay and Western Conference champion Phoenix Rising set for Nov. 1 was cancelled due to multiple people on the Tampa Bay team (players and staff) testing positive for COVID-19.