It’s been a tough season so far. Unlucky refereeing decisions, slim margins, and a lack of goals had seen 901 FC drop to 17th place (out of 18 teams) in the Eastern Conference, and with bottom-ranked Hartford visiting, it had the potential to get a whole lot worse. A loss would have seen Memphis hit rock-bottom, raising a whole lot of questions about the team and ramping up the pressure. But Elliot Collier didn’t get the memo, the New Zealander electrifying the AutoZone Park crowd with a devastating hat-trick to give 901 FC a 4-1 victory over Hartford Athletic.
- 901 FC
- Elliot Collier seals victory with his third goal of the night
Memphis Coach Tim Mulqueen put out a very strong lineup, with a midfield four of Duane Muckette, Cam Lindley, Dan Metzger, and Adam Najem supporting the strike duo of Brandon Allen and Elliot Collier. On the defensive end, I’ll admit I was a tad relieved to see Josh Morton starting at left back, with recent starter Abdi Mohamed not exactly locking down his flank in recent performances. Defensive midfielder Ewan Grandison dropped to right back, while Todd Pratzner partnered captain Marc Burch in central defense.
The lineup was largely untroubled by Hartford during the game, but Memphis weathered an early scare with just three minutes on the clock. Goalkeeper Scott Levene spilled a long shot back into the box, and Hartford’s follow up crashed off the underside of the crossbar and out. That could have frayed the home nerves, but Collier took matters into his own hands just a few minutes later. Allen won a 50-50 ball in the midfield and laid it off to Cam Lindley, who played a first-time pass out to Collier on the left flank. With plenty of space, he drove toward the box and hapless Hartford right back Nicky Downs, who would soon discover he was powerless against the oncoming storm. Collier sent Downs toward the byline but instead cut inside before drilling his shot near post to make it 1-0 to Memphis in the sixth minute. Two minutes later, Collier chased down a long ball and nutmegged Downs, forcing the defender to commit a foul and earn a yellow card.
But Collier truly earned himself a place in Downs’ nightmares when he linked up with Najem in the 12th minute and once again drove toward the struggling defender. With Hartford continuing to give him space, he switched up his tactics and cut onto his left foot before driving his shot through the legs of Hartford keeper Frederik Due. Just like that, it was 2-0 Memphis. Josh Morton could have even made it 3-0 two minutes later when he exquisitely brought a long ball under control and cut inside to his right foot, but he sliced his shot for a throw-in. The continued pressure down that flank forced Hartford coach Jimmy Nielsen to reshuffle his defense in a bid to quell Collier’s threat. Unfortunately for the away side, Due had to come off due to an injury and was replaced by Jacob Lissek.
With a two-goal cushion, Memphis started to back off from their initial press, ceding plenty of possession to Hartford. While the Connecticut side didn’t do much, it did put together one slick passage that resulted in midfielder Mads Jorgensen smashing a low drive off the post and in to pull a goal back in the 30th minute. Memphis players thought they’d responded immediately when a set-piece delivery floated through the crowd and into the back of the net, but the referee waved it off.
After a madcap opening half-hour, the excitement wound down and Memphis contained Hartford for a 2-1 halftime lead. After the break, the slower pace of the game continued, with Hartford needing a goal but not looking very threatening. Still, a one-goal lead isn’t very secure, and Mulqueen made substitutions that indicated his desire to go for the kill. Dribbling maverick Lagos Kunga and forward Jochen Graf came into the game, and with Memphis now playing on the counter, looked to liven up the occasion. Instead, it was Collier once again who put the final nail in Hartford’s coffin, and it was a thing of footballing beauty.
There was absolutely no danger on when he received the ball in his own half in the 75th minute, but a quick 180 turn evaded the attention of two Hartford markers and opened up the entire offensive end. It still baffles me how the tallest man on the field can have such effective dribbling skills, but Collier surged forward, evading not one, not two, not even three, but four challenging defenders as he left a trail of carnage in his wake. Skipping into the box, he forced Lissek off his line before finessing a left-footed shot into the bottom corner to restore the two-goal advantage and put Hartford out of its misery. Collier scored the first goal in 901 FC history earlier this season, and on Saturday further cemented his name in the history books with the organization’s first hat trick and first home league win. Not a bad night’s work.
- 901 FC
- Lagos Kunga celebrates scoring his first 901 FC goal
With AutoZone park in full party mode, Graf continued the festivities when he picked up a loose ball and played in Kunga, who smashed a left footed drive past Lissek for his first 901 FC goal. Cue the pyrotechnics and further elation around the stadium. Hartford were well and truly beaten, and Memphis emphatically secured the three points for a victory. It was an all-around good night for 901 FC. Mulqueen’s selection was spot-on in a game that could prove a huge turning point in Memphis’ season. Placing Collier out on the left side was the perfect call, with Hartford unable to provide an answer to his powerful runs.
The only negative is that Allen still doesn’t seem to have acclimated to the team. He was isolated for long periods of the game and didn’t receive much in the way of service. Collier’s man of the match performance should take off some of the heat, but if our midfield isn’t able to create more quality chances for the central striker, the team may continue to struggle for goals against better opponents.
The victory lifts Memphis to 14th place in the Eastern Conference on 14 points. St. Louis FC occupies the final playoff spot in 10th on 21 points. With 18 games remaining in Memphis’ regular season, there’s still plenty of time to challenge the upper half of the table for that last spot, but it won't be easy. The offensive unit needs to find more solutions going forward. As good as he is, Collier won’t score a hat-trick every night. But until next Saturday’s away match against the Charleston Battery, Memphis fans can revel in Super Collier’s goal of the week and a first USL home win.