The weekend's action kicks off with two intriguing contests in the USL Championship tonight, including on featuring two sides looking primed for the playoffs but each with something to prove in their first meeting of the season. Here's your Morning Tea for Friday.
Okay so here’s what we know about Hartford Athletic.
First, they’re a much better side than the one that played the club’s inaugural season. Second, in the one big test they’ve had so far against Indy Eleven, they performed well in spurts, but gave away goals late in a 4-1 defeat at Lucas Oil Stadium.
And lastly, they’re a side that’s shown a resiliency when playing from behind. Oh, and one more thing... they’re probably going to make the playoffs.
So what does that mean for the Athletic as they gets ready to face their group F rivals Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC for the first time on Friday night at Dillon Stadium?
“It’s a very important game for us,” Hartford midfielder Danny Barrera told the Journal Inquirer’s Adam Betz. “It’s going to be a good test for us. I know they’ve been watching us, we’ve been watching them.”
Barrera figures to be on one side of a duel between two of the league’s best playmakers. On the other is the Hounds’ Kenardo Forbes, who sits one ahead of Barrera with seven assists this season and has cemented his place among the elite players in the league’s history by becoming its all-time assists leader this season.
Their presence – and those of other notable attacking performers on either side – should make for an entertaining game at least.
“I think they’ve been scoring goals and pretty stingy defensively,” said Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley to media this week. “I think we have the personnel to go there and get a result, but we’ve got to take care of the ball and slow them down. Typical stuff, but we want to be on the front foot.”
There are expectations, too, for the Hounds. As last season’s first-place finisher in the Eastern Conference, missing out on top spot in what appears to be the easiest of the eight regionalized groups would certainly be a disappointment.
But the central attraction on Friday night will be how Hartford performs on its home turf against another serious title contender, and whether it can set up a close race to the finish in the second half of the regular season in front of its strong home support.
“The fans have been amazing,” Athletic forward Alex Dixon told Betz. “So, I know they’re going to come and bring the noise and the energy. So, we just have to match it and then hopefully come out and get out a good result.”
Finished a very emotional conversation w/ Indy Eleven captain @mattwatson8. He did not take the field last night with his teammates.— Kelly Reinke (@KellyReinkeTV) August 27, 2020
"I just emotionally could not find the strength to hold back the pain inside me after witnessing so many black people gunned down like animals." pic.twitter.com/LML3IUvutg
- If you look closely in the stands at Friday night’s game between Rio Grande Valley FC and San Antonio FC at H-E-B Park, you may see some very furry faces in the seats. The Toros have teamed with Friends for Hope for a local fundraiser for pediatric cancer patients, with the Fanfare Bears available to be purchased online through the club.
- Louisville City FC became the latest USL Championship side to find a new addition from the college ranks on Thursday as it signed former Stanford University forward Arda Bulut. The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Dominique Yates has more on the new arrival, who is forgoing his senior season with the Cardinal to join the professional ranks.
- Memphis 901 FC also made a new addition on Thursday with the arrival of Tommy McCabe on loan from Major League Soccer’s FC Cincinnati. McCabe has previous Championship experience, having scored two goals in nine appearances for North Carolina FC a season ago.
- New Mexico United will again head to face El Paso Locomotive FC and Southwest University Park on Saturday, September 5 as the venue for the contest between the top two sides in Group C was switched on Thursday. New Mexico has yet to play a home game this season due to a public health order in the state, but has produced on the field to sit on top of the group and in a strong position to reach the USL Championship Playoffs.
- Saturday night brings one of the more intriguing games of the weekend as Group B leader Phoenix Rising FC visits Group A leader Reno 1868 FC at Greater Nevada Field. The Arizona Republic’s Lorenzino Estrada has the view from Phoenix’s camp, where the side is looking to rebound from its surprise draw against Las Vegas Lights FC last weekend.