Hartford Athletic… did not start the year well. Are looks deceiving, though? Shawn McFarland covers pro soccer for the Hartford Courant, and I went to him for some insight on Nashville SC’s next opponent.
For Club and Country: Hartford started the year rough, but has since had a much better run of results. Is there a sense that they’ve turned a corner, or has finally playing a few home games been the primary difference?
Shawn McFarland: I’d say they’ve turned a corner. Head coach Jimmy Nielsen didn’t hold back after a 2-1 loss to Memphis 901 in early May, citing that the players didn’t come to play, and even going as far to say that the loss was their fault, and not his. Since then, the team is 2-0-2 and has risen from last place. There’s absolutely a changed energy at practice, in games. Whether what Nielsen said in the post game press conference after the Memphis loss lit a fire under his guys, I’m not sure, but I’d call that the turning point.
FCAC: Similarly, they’re still at Rentschler for another month or so. Is there a sense that they’ll have an even better home-field advantage when they have their own dedicated facility? Are the teams playing them in Hartford now getting off easy because of a reduced home-field advantage?
SM: It’s impossible to say, really, but I think there could be some truth to that. Average attendance has been around the low-to-mid 5’000’s. Dillon Stadium, the team’s home come July 13, holds 5,500. Assuming the attendance stays the same for those games at Dillon, the atmosphere should be crazy, and I’d imagine the home field advantage will only play into Hartford’s edge even more.
FCAC: Who have been the standouts so far for this team? Anybody that hasn’t stood out so far, but could be due for a breakout in the second half of the year?
SM: The No. 1 standout has been Harry Swartz, a midfielder that was brought in on a trial, earned a starting role, and has scored 3 goals between USL regular season games and U.S. Open Cup games. He’s an absolute ball of energy up front, plays super aggressive, and is a favorite of Nielsen. He’s a New England guy, too. Northeastern grad, and a native of Needham, Mass.
As far as a player due for a breakout, I’d say striker Alex Dixon. This guy can flat out fly. He was cited as having a nose for scoring, and played for Nielsen in OKC. He’s struggled to stay in the lineup early on, but assuming he can keep his health heading forward, he could have a big summer.
FCAC: What were the expectations for Hartford coming in as an expansion team? Presumably they haven’t been on pace to hit the optimistic end of those, but does it seem like there are still some in reach?
SM: Yeah, I think the 0-9 start really killed any expectations, haha. I think the expectations for year one are less result based, and moreso geared towards connecting with fans and building that supporter base. I’d say they’ve been more than successful on that end.
FCAC: What do you expect out of this game? Final score prediction?
SM: I think it’s going to be a 1-1 draw. Hartford has played good teams reaaallly well this past month or so. They’ve done a good job of answering back if they fall behind early, and have held on to leads too. Plus, they seem to love putting on a show for the home crowd.