Hartford put together their strongest offensive showing in the last few games, but were unable to net a goal. History then repeated itself, as the Boys in Blue fell victim to their fifth stoppage-time goal conceded this year.
Hartford Athletic tallied three shots in their last two matches combined, but tonight was a different story. Just over a minute into the game, Juan Carlos Obregón Jr. found himself open just above the box and sent a low shot on net right into the hands of Birmingham’s keeper, Matt Van Oekel. In the 12th minute, Danny Barrera’s corner kick ricocheted through the traffic in front of the net, eventually rolling out to an open Joel Johnson in the box. Johnson fired a shot on net, but Van Oekel was there to smother it and make sure nothing trickled past him. Johnson stayed involved, floating a cross into the box just a few minutes later. Obregón Jr. elevated and was able to send a header toward the net, but it was just too high and fell victim to the crossbar.
The Green and Blue came out of the gates hard, controlling the early portion of play. Throughout the first 20 minutes of the match, they held an advantage over the Legion in possession (53%) and shots (6), including taking four of their shots from inside Birmingham’s box. This start demonstrated a far more aggressive Athletic team than late, doubling their cumulative shot total from their last two matches in just the first 20 minutes of tonight’s game.
After beginning the game on defense, the Legion punched back. One of their biggest threats to score came in the 29th minute, when Jonny Dean lofted a cross into the box to the feet of Ryan James right in front of Hartford’s net. James sent a one-timer towards goal, but Yannik Oettl showed off the agility. Athletic’s keeper did the splits and deflected the ball back out wide to keep Birmingham off the scoreboard. Birmingham looked to take the lead once again just before halftime in the 45th minute. Their free kick sailed into the box and Zach Herivaux leapt for a header, but Oettl slid in to make the save. After exchanging blows back and forth throughout the first 45, the score was the same as when the opening whistle blew.
After an exciting first half, not much time was wasted before both teams got back to the action coming out of the break. In the 53rd minute, Joel Johnson delivered a long cross into the box and Andre Lewis unleashed a header on goal, but Van Oekel was able to keep it out of the net. Just a couple minutes later, Danny Barrera passed a ball into the box for Prince Saydee to run onto. The chance looked promising, but Van Oekel came flying out of his net and arrived at the ball just in time to deny Saydee the opportunity. The Boys in Blue looked to break the scoring seal in the 71st minute, when Andre Lewis flicked the ball over the Legion’s back line. It fell to the feet of Rashawn Dally who was all by himself in the box. He sent a scorcher on goal, however a flailing Van Oekel made the miraculous save to keep the contest scoreless.
After surviving the Green and Blue’s barrage, Birmingham tried to get on the board themselves. In the 80th minute, Ryan James floated a cross into Hartford’s 18, trying to find his teammate for the header. His pass was deflected and fortunately for the Legion, fell right at the feet of Mataeo Bunbury in the box. Once again, Yannik Oettl was there to play hero, charging out of his net and sliding in to make the dramatic save.
After a hard fought match, it appeared that Hartford would walk away with their second scoreless draw in a row. Then, in the first minute of stoppage time, Oettl had the ball at his feet trying to play it out to his team. Birmingham came to pressure him and forced him to pass the ball out. Enzo Martinez was there to intercept the ball and took advantage of an out of position Oettl to net his seventh goal of the season and deal a heartbreaker just before the final whistle. Athletic would have one more opportunity off a late-game corner kick, but they would not find the back of the net and left the field with a difficult loss. Hartford ended the game with more expected goals (1.61), shots (18) and big chances (2) than the Legion, but were unable to get one past Van Oekel, who tied the league-lead with his ninth clean sheet this season.
The Green and Blue are back in action next week when they travel to Tennessee to face Memphis 901 FC on Saturday, August 6, at 8:30 P.M.
Shots (On-Target): Hartford 18 (6) – Birmingham 12 (7)
Corners: Hartford 7 – Birmingham 4
Fouls: Hartford 14 – Birmingham 11
Offsides: Hartford 0 – Birmingham 1
Possession: Hartford 55% – Birmingham 45%
Passing Accuracy: Hartford 87.8% – Birmingham 83.8%
Saves: Hartford 6 – Birmingham 6
90 + 1’ – Enzo Martinez
23’ – Tom Brewitt (Yellow)
59’ – Boudadi (Yellow)
72’ – Enzo Martinez (Yellow)
77’ – Logan Gdula (Yellow)
86’ – Danny Barrera (Yellow)
90 + 4’ – Bunbury (Yellow)
HARTFORD ATHLETIC STARTING LINEUP:
13 (GK) Yannik Oettl; 2 (DF) Younes Boudadi, 3 (DF) Logan Gdula, 4 (DF) Tulu, 5 (DF) Tom Brewitt, 30 (DF) Joel Johnson (A. Martínez, 67’); 10 (MF) Danny Barrera, 28 (MF) Conor McGlynn, 77 (MF) Andre Lewis, 7 (FW) Prince Saydee (A. Apollon, 84’) 9 (FW) Juan Carlos Obregón Jr. (R. Dally, 60’)
BIRMINGHAM LEGION FC STARTING LINEUP:
1 (GK) Matt VanOekel, 3 (DF) Phanuel Kavita, 7 (DF) Ryan James (G. Dupont, 90 + 3’); 21 (DF) Alex Crognale, 24 (DF) Jonny Dean, 5 (MF) Mikey Lopez, 8 (MF) Bruno Lapa (A. Asiedu, 59’); 19 (MF) Enzo Martinez, 20 (MF) Zach Herivaux, 10 (FW) Prosper Kasim (M. Santos, 59’); 99 (FW) Juan Agudelo (M. Bunbury, 73’)