MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Hartford Athletic jumped to the top of Group F with a 2-0 victory against the New York Red Bulls II on Sunday night at MSU Soccer Park in a game that saw the visitors hold on during the first half before producing the goals it needed after the break to pass Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. As a result, Hartford will host Saint Louis FC at Dillon Stadium to kick off its first trip to the USL Championship Playoffs.
Looking to end the season on a positive note of their own, the Red Bulls II went close to an early goal in the eighth minute as Sebastian Elney drove in from the left toward the top of the penalty area and fired a shot toward the right corner that was parried wide for a corner by Hartford goalkeeper Parfait Mandanda. Elney fired just wide again from a similar position eight minutes later, but just before the half-hour mark Omar Sowe drove a low shot from 25 yards that Mandanda wasn’t initially able to hold, but was able to scramble to recover before a Red Bulls II player could pounce on the rebound.
The Red Bulls II continued to look the more threatening side at the start of the second half as well as Sowe played Elney into the penalty area just two minutes after the break for a rising shot from the right side of the box that Mandanda turned over. A few minutes later Hartford’s first real look arrived as Danny Barrera tried a curling effort that Red Bulls II goalkeeper Luca Lewis went at full stretch to turn aside before Tyreke Johnson was unable to keep the rebound in play.
Lewis was called on to make an even bigger save in the 53rd minute as Alex Dixon got in behind the Red Bulls II defense on a good ball by Aidan Mesias into the right channel but saw his shot to the near post denied by an excellent 1-on-1 stop. Hartford’s momentum continued to grow five minutes later as Lewis made an initial stop on a shot by Barrera from 20 yards before recovering to keep out Mesias’ follow-up effort.
The Athletic opened the scoring with 25 minutes to go, however, as Dixon played Ever Guzman into the right side of the penalty. Guzman’s shot appeared to have been pulled well wide of the left post, but Johnson popped up in the right place to redirect it home from the top of the six-yard area.
With 15 minutes to go, Hartford appeared to put a lock on the game as Conor McGlynn picked up possess in the left channel about 30 yards from goal and pulled the trigger for a spectacular finish into the right corner of the net.
New York tried to find a way back late, and Mandanda had to make a sharp near-post save to keep out a low corner kick by Deri Corfe in the first minute of stoppage time before Samad Bounthong fired just wide from the edge of the penalty off the clearance. Cherif Dieye then almost produced an outstanding solo effort as he cut through two defenders in the left channel before firing a shot that hit the right post and caromed away to safety. The Athletic preserved their clean sheet, though, and took their place atop Group F with their third consecutive win to end the regular season.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Tyreke Johnson, Hartford Athletic – Johnson had one goal and one assist, completed three dribbles and made seven recoveries to help the Athletic claim a crucial victory.