Longtime Hounds fans who were hoping to see a familiar face or two in the Penn FC starting lineup to boo will be disappointed to learn that there isn’t much recognizable about this team. The former Harrisburg City Islanders have a new name, new crest, new colors, and new head coach. Not only that, but the newly named Penn FC turned over 21 of 23 players from their 2017 iteration, retaining only backup goalkeeper Sean Lewis and veteran defender Thiago Calvano.
This new team won’t just be searching for a win at Highmark Stadium this Saturday – they’re also in search of what kind of football team they want to be going forward.
Formation and Tactics
In last week’s 1-0 loss to Charleston Battery, Penn FC was lined up in a 3-5-2. New head coach Raoul Voss, formerly an assistant with Tampa Bay Rowdies, packed the midfield with bodies, making it exceedingly difficult for Charleston’s attack to find their way through the thicket of arms and legs. The result was a game with a good deal of action as both teams dribbled and passed their way into midfield, only to have the ball stripped from them as they attempted to penetrate the final third. Both Charleston and Penn FC could only muster 1 shot apiece by half time, although the Battery were able to get 5 shots in the second half as tactics changed. Penn FCs two defensive midfielders stayed deep and were effective at keeping the ball circulating, and tended to keep the ball on the ground, maintaining a slight 55-45 advantage in possession.
Defensively, Penn FC spent the first half aggressively pressing and swarming the dribbler whenever it came in to midfield, forcing a ton of turnovers and quickly taken, rushed passes. A more effective one and two-touch passing team than Charleston might be able to exploit that kind of press, as Penn’s swarming defense often left open the passing lanes. In the second half with a nil-nil draw at hand, Penn stopped pressing and sat deep, giving Charleston more time on the ball and handing them several good scoring opportunities. The Battery finally broke through on a nifty play in the box at the 63rd minute, as Ataullah Guerra juked Penn defender Calvano into a slide, shift the ball onto his left foot, and tucked a shot into the far netting. Penn seemed to be out of gas for the final frame, and slunk away from the match with only 3 shots on the day, with none on frame.
Send the defender for a hotdog ✅
Hit the side netting ✅
Get nominated for @USL GOTW ✅
— Charleston Battery (@Chas_Battery) March 26, 2018
Despite their lack of offensive punch in the match against Charleston, Penn FC’s strikers looked dangerous. The midfielders found second forward Jorge Rivera in space a couple of times in the first half, and he made several good runs while holding off opponents. Penn’s number nine striker, Lucky Mkosana, was a threat in the first half on several occasions. Rivera and Mkosana often operated in Charleston’s 18 yard box without much support from their midfield. Mkosana was Harrisburg City’s leading scorer waaaaay back in 2013, before departing to play in the NASL and Finland, returning to USL for this season. (In fact, Mkosana scored the game winner in the first game ever played at Highmark Stadium in April 2013, a 90-minute tally that gave Harrisburg City a 2-1 win).
Penn’s starting lineup is long on experience, as goalkeeper Romuald Peiser is 38 years old, defender Calvano is 36, and the aforementioned Mkosana is 30. Penn’s midfield string puller/traffic director is Dan Metzger, a talented 24 year old that comes over from New York Red Bulls II, where he earned 66 appearances from 2015 to 2017 and was a key part of the NYRBII’s USL Cup winning side. Finally, a couple new Penn FC players come as a result of the team’s rebrand and strategic partnership with US youth club Rush Soccer, who boast having 30,000 youth players at 48 clubs around the United states. Penn’s roster has three Rush products on it: defender Ken Tribbett, midfielder Miguel Jaime, and goalkeeper Jacob Lissek. All three are natives of Colorado and played club soccer with Colorado Rush.
Penn FC, like the Riverhounds, had a bye in week 1 of the USL season. Their 1-0 loss to Charleston Battery was their first match of the 2018 season. In preseason, Penn FC faced the Riverhounds at Highmark on March 10, with the Hounds coming out the victors, 3-2. To read more about the match, check John Krysinsky’s recap here. Penn played a number of other close defeats in preseason, but earned a win against collegiate side LIU-Brooklyn on February 16, 2-1.