HARTFORD, Conn. – Saint Louis FC has at least one more game to play.
A goal in second-half stoppage time by substitute Joaquin Rivas earned the visitors a 1-0 victory against Hartford Athletic at Dillon Stadium on Saturday night and a place in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs after a game that was poised on a knife-edge throughout as both goalkeepers made key saves.
The goal arrived in the third minute of stoppage time as an Athletic defender tried to clear a ball from midfield intended for Mour Samb, but the ball skipped on toward goal as he misconnected. Another challenge took the ball away from Samb, but straight into the path of Rivas, who surged forward into the right side of the penalty area and struck a powerful finish in at the near post to leave Hartford goalkeeper Parfait Mandanda with little chance.
The Athletic threw numbers forward in the remaining time, but Saint Louis’ defense held firm to secure its first postseason victory and a date with either Louisville City FC or Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC next weekend.
Previously, both goalkeepers were called into action early as Hartford’s Danny Barrera hit a turning shot from 10 yards that STLFC’s Kyle Morton tipped over the crossbar in the fourth minute. Saint Louis’ Tyler Blackwood then fired an effort after a ball fell loose just inside the top of the penalty area that forced a good save from the Athletic’s Parfait Mandanda.
The sides maintained a brisk pace after the quick start, but it was the hosts that looked the more threatening in the final third. Morton made another good save to deny a near-post shot from the left channel by Gabriel Torres in the 14th minute, and then Hartford’s Aidan Mesias was unable to finish a big chance after slipping in unmarked to get on the end of a cross by Ever Guzman that Morton palmed behind.
After the early flurry of chances, the game reached halftime scoreless, but teams again came out sharply to start the second half. Saint Louis had the first chance as Guy Abend shifted through a pair of defenders on the left after taking a throw-in and had a low shot from a narrow angle saved by Mandanda. Hartford’s Alex Dixon then went close a minute later as Torres found him in the center of the penalty area only for his shot to go wide of the left post.
Saint Louis went close again just past the hour-mark as Cicerone curled a free kick from nearly 30 yards just wide of the left post, while Hartford came up with a big chance with 15 minutes to go when Dixon slipped Markus Naglestad in behind the STLFC back line only for Morton to come quickly off his line and keep out his shot from the right side of the penalty area.
Neither side was able to seriously threaten a winner in the final 10 minutes, though, but just as the game appeared set to head to extra time, Rivas’ moment arrived to send STLFC’s fans into celebrations and his side through to the next round.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Kyle Morton, Saint Louis FC – Morton recorded a five-save shutout, including some stops of the highest order, to keep his side in the game before it grabbed a dramatic winner.