EAST HARTFORD, May 10 – Hartford Athletic coach Jimmy Nielsen has built successful a professional soccer team before. He coached the Oklahoma City Energy, a United Soccer League expansion franchise for four seasons from 2014-17, earning three playoff berths and two appearances in the Western Conference finals.
He was utterly frustrated Friday night at Rentschler Field after his Hartford Athletic lost their ninth game in 10 outings in their initial campaign with a 2-1 loss to Memphis 901, another USL expansion franchise.
“I’m very disappointed,” Nielsen said. “That was an unacceptable performance from the first minute to the last minute of the game. Ninety-nine times out of 100, when we don’t perform, I take responsibility. But I am not doing tonight. This is 100 percent on the players. They should apologize to the people that showed up today.”
Nielsen saw his Athletic earn their first USL point a week ago with a 1-1 tie here at Rentschler Field after opening the season with eight straight road games and eight straight defeats. After a good week of training, he was upbeat about Hartford’s chances to earn their first-ever victory.
Instead, he saw Memphis (2-6-3) dominate the early stages of the game, keeping control of the contest and taking a 1-0 lead in the 24th minute when Duane Muckette took a tremendous cross into the penalty box from a wide-open Abdi Mohamed, the former Ohio State standout, and ripped it past Hartford keeper Jacob Lissek (0-7).
It was the ninth time in 10 matches this year that Hartford gave up the first goal of the contest.
“We had a fantastic week of training and then we show up and (play) like this,” Nielsen said. “This is 100 percent on the players. It is unacceptable. I am sick and tired of saying how well we (trained). People don’t care what happens Monday through Friday (in training). It’s all about game night.”
Hartford (0-9-1) has scored just six goals – the lowest in the Eastern Conference and second lowest in the USL. Raymond Lee scored his first goal as a professional with 14 minutes left in the first half to tie the game at 1-1.
But that would be it for the Athletic. “I am missing that hunger (on the team),” Nielsen said. “I am missing leadership. I am missing individual responsibilities. I am missing that grinding hunger (to succeed).”
Memphis twice threatened to regain the lead late in the first half as Tristan Hodge and Collier were both denied by Lissekm which tough saves in a crowded penalty box.
Memphis took a 2-1 lead with 20 minutes left in the game. Elliot Collier took a great crossing pass from a wide open Wesley Charpie on the wing and into the penalty box. Collier’s head ball at point blank range was saved initially by Lissek. But the ball went right back to Collier, who awkwardly tapped in the goal with his left foot for the lead and the eventual game-winning shot.
Hartford nearly tied the game when Sem de Wit launched a hard shot from the top of the penalty box in the final minute of regulation that just sailed over the crossbar.
“We were one step behind from the first minute,” said Nielsen, who slammed his hand to the desk in the interview room, “to the last second.” And he slammed it again on the desk as he ended the sentence.
Nielsen said lineup changes are coming. Hartford hosts the New York Cosmos B – a National Premier Soccer League team — in the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night at the University of Hartford before getting back to USL action on Saturday when they travel to Washington, D.C., to take on Loudoun United.
“Right now, this is a tough one for me to swallow,” Nielsen said. “I gotta sleep on this one if I can get any sleep at all. This one hurts. This one hurts a lot.”
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) May 11, 2019
NOTES: Hartford and Memphis are two of seven expansion franchises in the USL this season. … Attendance was 5,045 fans at Rentschler Field, where Hartford will play their eight home games as renovations are completed at their permanent home – Hartford’s Dillon Stadium. Hartford expects to play in Dillon Stadium in late July. … Hartford is the only team in the USL that hasn’t earned a win yet.
Memphis 2, Hartford 1
At East Hartford
Memphis (2-6-3) 1 1 — 2
Hartford (0-9-1) 1 0 — 1
Goals: Hartford – Raymond Lee 31 (Hugh Alexander Dixon); Memphis – Duane Muckette 24, Elliot Collier 71; Shots: Memphis 14-11; Shots on net: Memphis 7-1; Saves: Jeff Caldwell (M) 0; Jacob Lissek (H) 5