Hartford Athletic scored twice in a strong first half performance to claim a 2-1 win for the expansion USL Championship side’s first victory at Al-Marzook Field at the University of Hartford campus.
With the win, Hartford becomes the first professional team from the state of Connecticut to win a US Open Cup game since the Connecticut Wolves (A-League, Div. 2 pro) back in 2001.
For Hartford head coach Jimmy Nielsen, who won the US Open Cup as a player in 2012 with Sporting Kansasa City, the season has been a struggle. After a loss in league play to Memphis 901 over the weekend, the hope is that this win is a sign of things to come.
“I was very disappointed after last week’s performance and I let the players know everyone’s job is on the line here,” said Nielsen. “It’s all about Saturday, you got to get out there and preform and get some results. We’ve struggled to get those results but today was hopefully a little turnaround for us.”
Before Hartford’s first half goals, it was nearly the New York Cosmos B side that scored first in the 10th minute following a corner, but Hartford keeper Jacob Lissek parried the shot off the crossbar and his defense cleared.
In the 16th minute, Hartford’s recent signing Harry Swartz opened the scoring with a smart finish at the back post, slotting home a pass from Giuseppe Gentile. Barely ten minutes later, Hartford won a dangerous free kick that earned Cosmos winger Aaron Dennis a yellow card in the 24th.
On the ensuing free kick, Hartford’s Mads Jorgensen went direct on goal and his bouncing effort eluded Cosmos keeper Santiago Castano at the near post to double Hartford’s lead to 2-0 with the goal officially credited in the 25th minute.
In first half stoppage time, Swartz went looking for his second goal, only to be denied by Castano who eventually claimed the rebound that fell and settled at mouth of the goal. Castano’s second save of the half preserved the 2-0 scoreline going into halftime.
The Cosmos got back into the game near the hour mark, when striker Bljedi Bardic smashed a rocket of a goal into the upper ninety in the 57th minute to cut the defecit to 2-1 Hartford. About ten minutes later, the Cosmos nearly found the equalizer when Daniel Szetela found the crossbar with another tremendous shot only to be denied by the frame.
A late stoppage time flurry from the Cosmos saw Efrain Burgos have a shot deflected out for a corner and Bardic have a shot parried away by Lissek at the near post, but the Cosmos were unable to convert the ensuing corners. Some strong hold up play by Hartford substitute Mac Steeves and strong keeping by Lissek closed out the seven minutes of stoppage time as Hartford claimed a spot in the Third Round against the winner of Memphis 901 FC (USL-C) and New York Red Bulls U-23s (USL League Two).
“ is new for a lot of people, it’s more than 100 years old, this Open Cup, it’s tradition, there’s a good history that’s been made in the past,” said Nielsen. “I know this year it’s not about me, I’ve had the pleasure to win the tournament myself so I know how big it can be. Now we’re probably going to play Memphis in the next round, that was my motivation going into this game, because this past week we had, in my opinion, our worst performance of the year against Memphis and we have a chance to bounce back against them.”
Hartford will be on the road in Round 3 and will play the winner of Memphis 901 FC (USL Championship) and the New York Red Bulls Under-23s (USL League Two) on May 29.