It’s hard to imagine the first 14 minutes of Miami FC’s season opener against visiting Loudoun United going any better.
Six minutes into the match, Ariel Martinez delivered a beautiful cross to newcomer Gigi Craig, who expertly headed the ball into the back of the net. A minute later, a defensive mishap from Loudoun United (and some pressure from forward Pierre da Silva) led to an own goal. And just like that, the Orange and Blue had a 2-0 lead.
And then Miami FC defender János Löbe received a red card, and the game changed completely. Forced to play a man down for 80 minutes, Miami FC still managed to hang on for a 2-1 victory.
Those first few minutes of action felt like just a small taste of the offensive capabilities of this Miami FC squad. Will we get a larger, more accurate sample when the team returns to the pitch Saturday night against Hartford Athletic?
Know Your Enemy: Hartford Athletic
Like Miami, Hartford Athletic is also coming off a win to kick off the season. They dispatched New York Red Bulls II on the road with a 3-2 victory on April 30.
But this year’s Hartford club looks much different from the squad that earned the franchise’s first playoff berth in 2020. For starters, Head Coach Harry Watling takes over to become the youngest coach in the USL Championship at 31 years old. And the team had to find a way to replace some key contributors from a year ago, including forward Ever Guzman–their leading scorer from 2020.
The team answered by adding firepower up front with forwards Bradford Jamieson IV (LA Galaxy, San Antonio FC) and Sebastian Elney (NYRB II). They will pair up with returning playmaker Danny Barrera, who scored the opening goal in the win over NYRBII.
Last year’s Hartford Athletic team took a defense-first approach last season en route to the postseason. And the team added some reinforcements to shore up that backline, signing former Reno 1868 FC defender Thomas Janjigian. In goal, Hartford signed former Memphis 901 FC goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell to mind the net.
One of the biggest questions entering the season was how this new-look Hartford squad would look on the pitch. In their first outing of 2021, they put on a strong offensive performance. It should be an intriguing test for Miami FC’s backline.
Keys To A Miami Victory
While Hartford Athletic’s offense was the big talking point after their victory in New York, make no mistake–it’s their defense that is still the key to their success. Interestingly, New York Red Bulls II dominated possession against Athletic (Hartford controlled the ball for just 40% of the match). And yet, Athletic took advantage of their opportunities and jumped out to a 2-0 lead at halftime.
If Miami wants to come away with three points Saturday night, they will need to jump out to another fast start and put Hartford on their heels early and often. Miami FC’s speed, especially with Speedy Williams and Cristiano Francois, could create problems for Hartford.
And keep an eye on goalkeeper Connor Sparrow. The former Chicago Fire keeper was put to the test in his Miami FC debut and rose to the occasion. After making eight saves and earning Man of the Match honors, can he do it again against a more formidable Hartford attack?
Saturday night will be a tougher test for Miami FC against a team hoping to earn another trip to the playoffs in a very competitive Atlantic Division.
We still haven’t seen what this Miami FC team is fully capable of on offense. But we did learn a lot about the team’s toughness and grit in the face of adversity last week. With both teams still trying to get their feet under them this season, we could be headed for an exciting back-and-forth match that ends in a stalemate.
Miami FC 2 – Hartford Athletic 2
WHO: Miami FC (1-0-0, 3 pts) vs. Hartford Athletic (1-0-0, 3 pts)
WHEN: Saturday, May 8 // 7:30 pm EST
WHERE: Riccardo Silva Stadium (Miami, FL)
TICKETS: No fans allowed at Miami FC home games to start the season.
- Miami FC – János Löbe (Suspended)
- Hartford Athletic – None