When Hartford Athletic finished the 2021 USL Championship season out of the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference, despite club records for wins (12) and points (41), it would have been easy to label the campaign as a disappointment, especially after reaching the postseason in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign.
However, a closer look at Hartford in 2021 reveals the regression in the table actually camouflages progression in player development. Much of that success can be attributed to first-year coach Harry Watling. The 32-year-old Englishman was Athletic’s third coach in as many seasons of existence, but his background was vastly different to previous managers.
Jimmy Nielsen and Radhi Jaidi had extensive professional playing experience. Watling earned his UEFA B license at age 18 and his UEFA A license at 26, working in the academy systems of Chelsea, West Ham United and Millwall.