Coming off a pair of midweek US Open Cup matches, both Penn FC and the Riverhounds are likely to rotate their squads significantly. So it’s great that the last USL regular season match that Penn played was a midweek clash again Toronto FC II. They played a game on Monday, May 7 against Ottawa and then a Wednesday match on May 9 against Toronto FC II – that’s really weird scheduling if you ask me.
Penn took the opportunity to play a different formation and a much-changed lineup from the first time I previewed them back in March. This week because of that US Open Cup match against the Richmond Kickers, Penn might choose to start anybody on their roster. It’s hard to know which formation and lineup Penn FC will go with, so for safe measure, you might want to read both my old and this current preview articles. Give a brother some extra clicks, would you? 😉
Tactics and Formation
The first time I previewed Penn FC, they started their first choice XI and played in a 3-5-2 formation. On May 9 against TFCII, they tried a 4-3-3, which is typically thought of as a more aggressive and attacking approach. In this match, it was exactly that. Toronto and Penn both played the kind of game I have grown accustomed to in USL: back and forth, attacking, end to end, physical, and up-tempo. The less-flattering part of that ‘typical game’ was also in evidence here: the passing and first touch of both teams, particularly Penn, was not quite up to par, with a few exceptions.
Penn used a variety of typical approaches in the attack. First, they liked to try and make a long or medium pass to striker Tommy Heinemann, who debuted for Penn FC in the last Keystone Derby match. You might remember that he was unceremoniously dumped by FC Cincinnati in a move that was ultimately ruled a breach of contract by the USL. Heinemann in this scenario receives the ball back-to-goal and looks to feed one of his runners from the week. The second attacking approach is to get Heinemann or a winger facing forward in a little space and have them get into a good shooting space atop the 18 yard box. The third preferred tactic is to work the ball to the two wingers, Prince Baffoe or Aaron Denniz, and then send Heinemann or the midfielders through as late runners.
All of these tactics created great chances for Penn FC throughout the first half but did not ultimately result in a goal. Penn’s finishing (as well as Toronto’s) was consistently bad, which is also a hallmark of USL, if we’re being honest. Then in the 43rd minute TFC II’s Shaan Hundal went up for an aerial dual with a Penn player, swung his elbow, and connected with his opponent’s head, knocking him out. That earned him a straight red. At that point, in an 11v10 situation, any tactical information I can gather is largely irrelevant so I turned it off. I hope you’re cool with that, dear reader.
In their first matchup of the season, Penn FC rolled out the following XI in the aforementioned 3-5-2:
Pelser; Tribbett, Tiago Calvano, Bond; Franco, Barone, Metzger, Rezende, Mauro Estaquio; Heinemann, Mkosana .
And against TFCII in the 4-3-3, this is how they looked:
Lewis; Galvao, Hawkins, Venter, Shaibu; Jaime, Rezende, Rivera; Baffoe, Denniz, Heinemann
I bolded the players that appeared in both matches: it was only Calvin Rezende, the team’s two-way midfielder, and striker Tommy Heinemann. Otherwise, this was two totally different teams playing totally different systems. I was impressed with Penn’s center backs in this one. Because of the aggressive attacking style Penn FC employed in this match, Harry Hawkins and Kyle Venter were often put to work defending alone against Toronto counter-attacks, and they held firm.
The fullbacks, Pedro Galvao and Haruna Shaibu, both looked a little shaky, as they were turned repeatedly by fleet-footed TFC attackers repeatedly. Shaibu is a new signing – the 19 year old Ghanaian is 6’4” and comes to Pennsylvania from the Right to Dream Academy in Africa. Joining Shaibu at Penn on the long flight from Accra is 24 year old Prince Baffoe, who started at right wing two weeks ago.You might want to keep an eye on both of them: Right to Dream has an impressive record of producing first division professional footballers, including David Accam of Philadelphia Union, Emanuel Boateng of LA Galaxy, and Nana Boateng of Colorado Rapids. Both of Penn’s new Right to Dream players can be tabbed as ‘works in progress’, but with high ceilings.
Colorado Rush academy product Miguel Jaime was the most technically gifted player I saw on the day; he also scored the game winner against TFC in the 87th minute.
Tommy Heinemann was the focal point of much of the action for Penn against Toronto – the game plan seemed to be ‘feed the ball to Tommy’. He’s 31 years old and has had a lot of soccer years, including three seasons in MLS with Columbus and Vancouver. He’s the prototype of the aging veteran striker: good instincts, great finishing, but his physical abilities are a bit diminished. That said, he leads Penn in Shots (17), Shots on Target (10), and Goals (3) – Tommy has twice as many shots and goals as anybody else on the team. I’m pretty sure Bob Lilley doesn’t need me to tell him this, but the game plan for the Hounds on Saturday should be ‘stop Tommy.’ This game may come down to one simple thing: how good is Hounds CB Tobi Adewole? Can he stop anybody? Evidence to this point indicates that he’s almost always up to any test.
If you want to watch this game, soccer aficionado style, my advice is 1) keep an eye on the Ghanaian kids and 2) watch the big boys, Heinemann and Adewole, go mano-a-mano.
Penn FC started poorly with 0-3-3 record to start the year, but in USL league play, they’ve won two of the last three matches, including a 3-0 shellacking of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Like the Riverhounds, they are coming off a disappointing midweek defeat in the US Open Cup that knocked them out of the tournament, so expect them to come out motivated and seeking revenge.