A year ago, it took the Hartford Athletic pro soccer team 10 matches before they could come home with a victory in their first-ever United Soccer League (USL) Championship season. In 2020, it took just one game but the Athletic had to wait nearly four months to play it.
Hartford won their season-opening contest Friday night in Harrison, N.J. with a 1-0 USL Championship win over the New York Red Bulls II. Hartford’s first game of the year, which was played in an empty stadium, was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The game-winning goal came on an unlikely play. After a New York corner kick, Hartford goalie Parfait Mandanra ran up to snatch the ball out of the air in a crowd of Red Bull II defenders. But he didn’t miss a step and punted the ball nearly 70 yards downfield.
The ball bounced and went right over the head of New York goalie Wallis Lapsley, who had moved up about 10 yards outside of the penalty box. Lapsley couldn’t stop and turn around quick enough.
And Hartford forward Cheno Guzman raced right past Lapsley, collected the ball and calmly rolled it into the net with just 12 minutes gone in the game.
Hartford’s defense did the job for the remainder of the contest as the Athletic earned a shutout for just the second time in team history. Mandanra, the 6-foot goalie in his first season with Hartford, made three saves to earn the shutout.
Defenders Matheus Silva, Kevin Politz and Alex Davey made numerous strong plays in front of Mandanra to prevent New York (0-2) from getting some good shots on net. New York did get 20 shots off, including 12 in the first half.
One of the best chances for the Red Bull 2 squad came in the final seconds of the match when Deri Corfe collected a cross inside the box and curled it toward the far post. The shot hit the post but the second shot by Deri Corfe off the rebound went wide.
Radhi Jaïdi debut behind the Hartford bench was successful and the Athletic (1-0, 3 points) find themselves tied for first place in Group F with Pittsburgh. Hartford will play each Group F team twice in their short 16-game schedule.
The Athletic will play their home opener against Loudoun United of Leesburg, Virginia on Monday night beginning at 7 p.m. at Dillon Stadium. The match, which will be nationally televised by ESPN2, will be played in front of about 1,300 fans.
Local and state regulations will allow the game to be played before 25 percent of the facility’s capacity of 5,500 fans. Each fan will have to wear a mask at all times unless they are eating or drinking. Fans will have to be socially distant in the grandstands and no tailgating will be allowed in the parking lots.
Hartford lost their first eight games of the year in 2019 and went 0-9-1 before earning a win over Louden United on May 19. The first shutout in team history was against Philadelphia last August, 3-0.
It was the first victory for Hartford over New York, who swept two games from the Athletic a year ago.
Hartford 1, New York Red Bulls II
At Harrison, N.J.
Hartford (1-0) 1 0 — 1
NY Red Bulls II (0-2) 0 0 — 0
Goals: Cheno Guzman (H); Assist: Parfait Mandanda (H); Shots: 20-6, New York; Shot on net: 3-1, New York; Possession: 65-35, New York; Saves: Mandanda (H) 3, Wallis Lapsley (NY) 0