Professional sports is slowly returning as the nation struggles to remain safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of the events held so far have been played without spectators. The recent Travelers Championship golf tournament in Cromwell was held without fans as have all PGA Tour events so far. Major League Baseball is set to return this week – without fans in the stands.
The Hartford Athletic pro soccer team made their 2020 debut on Saturday by beating the New York Red Bulls II in an empty stadium in New Jersey.
Thanks to the hard work of the people of Connecticut to try and minimize the spread of COVID-19 by observing social distancing and wearing masks, the Athletic got to play before about 1,300 fans on Monday night at Hartford’s Dillon Stadium – 25 percent of the stadium’s 5,500 seat capacity.
Instead of the words of the players communicating with each other echoing off the metal bleachers and the buzzing sound of cars flying behind the stadium on Interstate 91 filling the air, players in Hartford’s USL Championship match with visiting Loudoun United (Leesburg, Virginia) hear the constant thumping of a drum in the stands and cheers of the fans.
Hartford (2-0) rewarded their faithful followers with a 3-1 United Soccer League victory over Loudoun United to move into a first place tie with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (2-0) in five-team Group F of the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference. It was the second straight win for Hartford, which won just eight games a year ago (8-21-5).
“It was brilliant. Brilliant,” Hartford’s Tyreke Johnson said referring to playing in front of fans for the first time this season. “It was great to hear the noise they were making with the drum. It was great support and we really appreciate it.”
Hartford’s first-year coach Radhi Jaidi said, “Amazing. I can’t hide my happiness and proudness to be at Dillon (Stadium). We have been waiting for this for a long time. I think the players are as thrilled about it as me. I’m grateful.”
Hartford popped in the first three goals of the contest, including the first goal in the first three minutes of the contest. On Saturday against New York, the Athletic gave up 20 shots and goalie Parfait Mandanra had to play well to keep Hartford in front.
On Monday night, Mandanra had to make just one save – and it was a beauty. Midway through the first half, Loudoun’s Elvis Amoh drove in on Mandanra with a breakaway. But the goalie dashed out of his net and deflected the ball away at the top of the penalty area before Amoh could get off a shot.
The Athletic outshot Loudoun, 17-5 and the visitors got off just two shots on net.
Brass Bonanza played three times tonight as the @hfdathletic sent the fans home happy in its 2020 Dillon Stadium opener. Athletic beat Loudoun United FC 3-1. In a show of the 'new normal', Connecticut's top pro soccer team played in front of 1300 fans (25 percent capacity @wnpr pic.twitter.com/aikU2uPrOG
— Frankie Graziano (@FrankieGrazie6) July 21, 2020
Hartford took a 1-0 lead on the second fastest goal in team history when Kevin Politz – in a crowded penalty area – used his head to redirect a corner kick from Gabriel Torres into the net just 2:49 into the game.
The Athletic pushed the lead to 2-0 just before halftime when Danny Barrera, just outside the penalty area, sent a little drop kick into the area and Harry Schwartz got a step on a Loudoun defender and ripped a shot that got inside the far post.
“I wasn’t sure what was going on but when Danny (Barrera) and (Alex Dixon) get involved with the ball, good things happen,” Schwartz said. “It was a perfect pass and I put it in.”
Hartford made it 3-0 early in the second half when Tyreke Johnson scored with 10 minutes gone in the second half. Johnson took a nice feed and carried it into the penalty area. Johnson quickly moved the ball between his feet and froze the Loudoun defender just long enough to rip a curling shot from about 25 years out into the net.
Two minutes later, Loudoun was awarded a penalty kick when Elvis Amoh was bumped off the ball by Hartford’s Alex Davey in the penalty area. Amoh scored to cut the lead to 3-1, his first goal with Loudoun.
“We started slow and gave away a bad restart goal which was something we focused on in training. We had some really good moments in the game but lacked quality in the final third and didn’t have enough runs in behind,” Loudoun coach Ryan Martin said. “I was happy with the effort the guys put forward but you can’t give a two goal lead to a team like Hartford on the road.”
Hartford is now 3-0 against Loudoun in their two-year history in USL Championship. … The Athletic return to action on Saturday with a game against Philadelphia Union II beginning at 7 p.m. at Dillon Stadium.
Hartford 3, Loudoun United 1
Loudoun United (0-1-1) 0 1 — 1
Hartford (2-0) 2 1 — 3
Goals: Kevin Politz (H), Harry Swartz (H), Tyreke Johnson (H), Elvis Amoh (L); Assists: Gabriel Torres (H), Danny Barrea (H); Saves: Parfait Mandanda (H) 1; Colin Miller (L) 6; Shots: Hartford, 17-5; On net: Hartford 9-2; Possession: Loudoun 54%, Hartford 45%; Corners: Hartford 6-1; Fouls: Loudoun 15-11; Offsides: Hartford 4-1
Eastern Conference, Group F
|Philadelphia Union II||0-1-1||1|
|New York Red Bulls II||0-2-0||0|
Teams get three points for a win and one point for a tie
Published Monday, July 20, 2020