Pandemic Soccer: Fans Mask Up For Hartford Athletic's Return Home | Connecticut Public Radio

Pandemic Soccer: Fans Mask Up For Hartford Athletic's Return Home

Jul 20, 2020

In a glimpse of the sporting “new normal,” Connecticut’s top pro soccer club hosted a league game in the middle of a pandemic.

Hartford Athletic held its home opener at Dillon Stadium, four months after it was supposed to be played.

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“We know that all eyes are on us to make sure that people are safe,” said Hartford Athletic CEO Jim Burda. “Everyone definitely is on high alert to make sure we do the right things for the community.”

Only 1,300 fans were admitted -- 25% of the stadium’s capacity. When fans arrived, they followed arrows to their seats as the team promoted one-way movement. Parties of fans sat 6 feet from one another. They all wore masks as required by the club.

“We all have to lift each other up, but we all have to hold each other accountable,” said Peter Carcia, a member of the 19th Regiment Hartford Athletic supporters group.

“If this is what it takes for us to be able to cheer these guys on, then we’re going to do it.”

Diego Sanhueza is a part of another supporters group called Raza Bravo. It’s mostly made up of Latin American soccer fans.

While Sanhueza felt safe out in public, his wife chose to stay home.

“She’s nine months pregnant,” Sanhueza said. “I’m waiting for the phone call so I can get out of here.”

Emiliano Airala (right) and Enzo Pereira (left) of Naugatuck take their seats before Hartford Athletic's home opener at Dillon Stadium on July 20. The club opened the stadium to fans at 25% capacity to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

Burda, the club’s CEO, said it took a lot of collaboration with the league and the state of Connecticut to get to a point where they could invite fans to the stadium.

As for the health and safety of the players, the United Soccer League is limiting club travel to mitigate coronavirus exposure. Teams are split into 10 divisions to allow for regional play.

“We stay close so that no one’s getting on airplanes,” Burda said. “Because the players are going to be in close contact and going into other areas, they’re tested every single week.”

The return to play comes at a time when Athletic fan Sal Sinsigalli could use it.

“This is kind of a little diversion for me to get my mind off of things,” Sinsigalli said. “I got laid off from my job of 31 years, which really was a blow.”

He believes the team could keep on like this if they follow through with measures put in place. If any Athletic fan is on the fence about going to a game, Sinsigalli recommends giving it a chance.

Defender Alex Davey of Hartford Athletic and forward Elvis Amoh of Loudoun United FC wrestle for the ball in the second half. Athletic won 3-1.
Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

If anyone takes issue with Athletic playing in front of fans, Sanhueza, the expectant father, shared three words.

“It’s our choice.”

Athletic won the match 3-1 over Loudoun United FC.

Kevin Politz opened the scoring for the home side in the third minute, tapping in a Gabriel Torres corner. Harry Swartz and Tyreke Johnson scored the other Athletic goals.

Loudoun’s goal came in the 58th minute when Elvis Amoh converted a penalty kick.