Hartford Athletic marked the reopening of 84-year-old Dillon Stadium with a 2-1 victory over Indy Eleven in front of a sellout crowd of 5,500 fans on Saturday afternoon. | Photo courtesy Hartford Athletic
From Douglas Martinez’s hat trick for Real Monarchs SLC to Phoenix Rising FC reaching the doorstep of history with its ninth straight win, Week 19 of the 2019 USL Championship campaign had a little bit of everything. Here are my winners and losers from the last seven days:
The Connecticut club couldn’t have scripted its homecoming at the newly renovated Dillon Stadium any better as Jose Angulo and Wojciech Wojcik scored second-half goals to help Hartford snap Indy Eleven’s 10-game unbeaten run with a 2-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 5,500 fans. The Athletic, which had won just one of seven games at its temporary home at Rentschler Field while the 84-year-old venue completed its $14 million renovation, were a little bit slow out of the gates but ramped up the pressure in the second half and got their reward after outshooting the visitors 9-5 over the final 45 minutes.
After the match, Head Coach Jimmy Nielsen was proud of the way that his players reacted to their new environs. “It's okay to have the butterflies in the stomach, but it can affect your performance,” Nielsen said. “You've got to be in there and be concentrated for 90-plus minutes. To be honest, I don't think there were too many changes in the players. They had a lot of fun and we defended that well. At the end of the day, I think it's a well-deserved victory against a very good team.”
Hartford wasn’t the only Eastern Conference side sitting outside of the playoff places to spring an upset over a top-10 team on Saturday night as Birmingham Legion FC came up with a massive 1-0 win over North Carolina FC at BBVA Field. The hosts probably should have been two or three goals clear before Brian Wright’s 79th-minute tally as J.J. Williams hit the crossbar with a header inside the opening 10 minutes and Prosper Kasim had a few good looks at Alex Tambakis’ goal, but Legion FC finally beat the NCFC goalkeeper when Wright chested down Daigo Kobayashi’s lofted through ball and found the side netting with a toe-poke finish from close range. The win was Birmingham’s first since April 27 and should give Head Coach Tom Soehn’s squad some confidence – even despite Chandler Hoffman’s season-ending PCL injury – as it continues its three-game homestand against ATL UTD 2 next weekend.
The visitors to BBVA Field next Saturday will certainly not be high on confidence after a resounding 8-1 defeat to the New York Red Bulls II at MSU Soccer Park this past weekend. The first three of those tallies came during a 213-second span midway through the first half, which saw the hosts apply relentless pressure in the attacking third and take advantage of some poor man-marking by the ATL UTD 2 defense. The errors continued to pile up in the second half as the visitors gave away possession in dangerous areas while also conceding a penalty and earning a sending off as the Red Bulls II racked up a Championship season-high eight goals, four of which came from Chris Lema. New York’s attacking midfielder became just the ninth player in league history to record at least four goals in a regular-season match, but perhaps more tellingly, ATL UTD 2 became the first team in league history to allow two such goalscoring outbursts having conceded four goals to North Carolina FC’s Donovan Ewolo last September in a 6-1 defeat. This performance should be embarrassing enough that Head Coach Stephen Glass can probably throw away the game tape.
New Mexico United Head Coach Troy Lesesne might have done the exact same thing after his side’s 6-1 defeat to Minnesota United FC in the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup this past Wednesday, but his side weren’t able to put that disappointment behind it on Saturday in a 2-1 road loss to Fresno FC. After conceding a penalty kick to Jemal Johnson in the 18th minute, the visitors responded just before halftime through Justin Schmidt, who arrived at the back post to sweep home his first professional goal. It wouldn’t be enough though, as Mickey Daly restored Fresno’s advantage from a corner kick three minutes after the break and New Mexico couldn’t find another way past CJ Cochran, who recorded seven saves in his side’s fourth straight win. Meanwhile, New Mexico has lost four of its last five games in league play and has slipped to ninth place in the Western Conference, just three points clear of the playoff line.
Fellow Open Cup Quarterfinalist Saint Louis FC wouldn’t mind being three points clear of the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference after its 2-1 loss to the Charlotte Independence on Saturday saw the side drop to 11th place, two points below its opponent at Sportsplex at Matthews. Charlotte struck early in each half through Niki Jackson and Enzo Martinez before STLFC brought a goal back through Caleb Calvert. However, unlike the previous week in a 2-2 draw against Loudoun United FC, Saint Louis couldn’t find an equalizer despite Joel Johnson’s sending off for the Independence with 10 minutes remaining. Head Coach Anthony Pulis’ squad does have four games in hand on Charlotte, but will need to start picking up victories to make the most of that advantage, something that isn’t exactly a given it hasn’t won since April 27 and faces a tough trip to Tampa Bay next weekend.
There’s no better feeling in soccer than scoring a game-winning goal in stoppage time to send your team to victory. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Tyrpak running halfway across the field in celebration after his 92nd-minute goal gave Austin Bold FC a dramatic 3-2 win over Orange County SC on Saturday night at Bold Stadium.
The forward’s volleyed finish gave Bold FC its third win in four outings to move up to fourth place in the Western Conference and marked Tyrpak’s second 92nd-minute winner this season, the first of which finished off his hat trick in a 3-2 win over Tulsa Roughnecks FC on June 1. Tyrpak is now up to five goals on the season, four of which have come off the bench as he’s been a nice impact player in attack for Head Coach Marcelo Serrano.