Hartford Athletic‘s home opener at Rentschler Field on Saturday was met with a strong response, as a reported crowd of over 11,000 fans turned out for the match.
Backed by Bruce Mandell’s Hartford Sports Group, Athletic is beginning play in Division II USL Championship this season as an expansion team. The club’s long-term facility plan is to play home matches at an overhauled Dillon Stadium, but with construction on that project not complete, Hartford is beginning its home schedule at UConn’s Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
Saturday marked the first home match for Athletic after eight straight road games to begin the season. It was an occasion that brought supporters out in high numbers, as a reported crowd of 11,346 saw Athletic and Charlotte Independence play to a 1-1 draw. More from the Hartford Courant:
“A three-and-a-half-year journey,” Mandell said. “Trying to do an expansion team and a stadium is a heavy lift.”
Coach Jimmy Nielsen is from Denmark and previously the coach in 2014-17 of the USL’s OKC Energy FC.
“For the people here, kids here, to have your own personal team — I remember it myself as a kid, seeing the local team playing,” he said. “You have your role models right here. You don’t have to go to Boston. You don’t have to go to New York. You have your team here in town. That’s special. I coach them this year, but this is not my team or Bruce’s team. This is our team. We want everyone, no matter where the hell you’re from, to have a chance to be a part of this.”
Renovations to Dillon Stadium could be complete in July, so Athletic will look to build on its strong start at Rentschler Field over the coming weeks as it prepares to open its permanent home. The next home match at Rentschler Field is set for Friday, when Memphis 901 FC visits Hartford.
Image courtesy Hartford Athletic.