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Preview: Hartford Athletic, Part One

Look, I’m gonna keep this short because I wrote like a jillion things today and my fingers are tired. This is part-the-first for the Riverhounds Group F top-of-the-table clashes with Hartford. Hartford Athletic have started to figure out the soccering after a pretty bad but to-be-expected expansion year in 2019.

Head Coach Jimmy Nielsen is gone, replaced by Tunisian international Radhi Jaïdi. I haven’t checked, but Jaïdi, a former centerback, may be the only current manager in USL to have scored a goal in a World Cup – he scored against Saudi Arabia in 2006 at the death to give his team their only points in the tourney that year. Dude probably hasn’t had to buy a drink* in his home country in a decade (*Non-alcoholic, of course).

Tactics and Personnel

The roster has turned over a bunch from last season – among regular starters, only captain Danny Barrera , Alex Dixon, and midfielder Mads Jørgensen are back. Barrera has 6 assists this year. With only 16 goals for and 11 goals against, Hartford mostly get it done with defense. Except for their one loss of the season, a 4-1 beating at the hands of Indy Eleven, they’ve kept the score sheet tidy. Dribbly and diminutive Éver Guzmán is their leading goal scorer, with 4 goals this year. The 32 year-old Mexican has played over 275 professional games in his career, which began with Liga MX side Morelia. He had 23 goals in three seasons with San Antonio. Veteran USL forward Alex Dixon is also a guy.

Parfait Mandanda! Is there a better name in all of USL? The goalkeeper is, indeed, the younger brother of longtime French international keeper Steve Mandanda, who has more than 400 caps with Olympique Marseilles in Ligue 1 and won the 2018 World Cup with Les Bleus. Sure he’s our opponent, but everybody likes parfaits, right?

Their formation is a 3-5-2 – they’ve rolled it out in every match this year. I haven’t seen it this year, but it likely looks a bit defensive in comparison to the Riverhounds version of the formation. Bob Lilley likes to use Ryan James as either the point guard to bring the rock up the wing, or even as a central-channel problem-causer, on or off the ball. Few 3-5-2 teams do that. Most use the middle centerback to be the fulcrum, like how Tommy Vancaeyezeele sometimes plays, or how Kenardo Forbes plays when the Hounds are in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. It’ll be interesting to see what the Athletic do with things.

It looks likely that, no matter what happens against Hartford, both teams are going to make the playoffs. Fivethirtyeight.com has the Hounds at a 98% chance to qualify, and they have Hartford at a 92%. Nicholas Murray has more on the whole league playoff scenarios over at the official USL site.The best result for both teams in all three upcoming matches is draw, draw, draw. That may mean these games will be a tad conservative and cautious.

To be honest, if I’ve watched them this year at all I’d forgotten it. The Riverhounds don’t need to figure them out completely today, though. They can use this game to get a depth sounding as to who Hartford are and how to stop them down the road. These two teams play each other again on September 12 and September 26. So this first match, while important, is certainly far from ‘defining’ or critical.

Last Week’s Hartford Lineup

Match Information

Date: Friday, Aug. 28
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Dillon Stadium in Hartford, Conn.
Streaming: ESPN+
Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live Updates: Twitter at @RiverhoundsSC and #HFDvPIT

 

Mark Asher Goodman is a writer for Pittsburgh Soccer Now, covering the Riverhounds, the Pitt Men's and Women's teams, and youth soccer. He also co-hosts a podcast on the Colorado Rapids called 'Holding the High Line with Rabbi and Red.' He has written in the past for the Washington Post, Denver Post, The Athletic, and American Soccer Analysis. When he's not reading, writing, watching, or coaching soccer, he is an actual rabbi. No, really. You can find him on twitter at @soccer_rabbi

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