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USL Preview: New name, new outlook for Penn FC

Soccer returns to City Island with a new brand and plenty of new faces

Penn FC

In what would be their last season under that name, the Harrisburg City Islanders only managed to secure 37 points from 32 matches, which left them in eleventh place in the USL Eastern Conference. Despite all of their troubles, if Harrisburg had gotten just 8 more points last season they would have been the 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. So now the question becomes, after a historic off-season for the newly christened Penn FC, have they done enough to get themselves back in the playoffs for the first time since 2014?

Let’s break it down according to the familiar wedding rhyme.


With all the changes between last season and this season, there’s not a lot of the old City Islanders left with Penn FC. However, I hope that the physical style of play that was a trademark of Bill Becher’s teams remains in place for Penn FC this season. Based on what’s been seen in the preseason, it feels like that’s going to be the case.


Now this one is easy. This team has a new name, new coach, new logo, new jerseys, new affiliation with Rush Soccer, and almost entirely new players. With the huge strides the USL has made in recent years, most of these changes were necessary just to keep up with the rest of the league. Penn FC has certainly taken a novel approach to how a USL team is going to be run, and it’ll be interesting to finally see how it’ll translate on the pitch.

New coach and new GM
Penn FC/Youth Sports Photo Inc.


I’m going to cheat on this one and count loaned players as something borrowed. Last season Harrisburg picked up three contributors on loan from Ghana Premier League side Inter Allies. Nothing has been announced yet for 2018, but there’s a few hints on social media as to who the loaned players may be. Expect these players to have a big impact just like last season.


The new home jerseys. Also, this cake:

Chris Bratton

Estimated Starting XI

It’s currently up in the air what formation new coach Raoul Voss will use in 2018. But based on what he was around in Tampa Bay, and also based on what he has favored in the preseason, it seems likely that he’ll go with a 4-2-3-1 formation. It looked like he may have tried a 4-1-4-1 at one point, but I was at field level for that preseason game and there’s a pretty good chance I was mistaken.

Goalkeeper: Romu Peiser

Some folks may point out his age, but Peiser started all of last season with the NASL champion San Francisco Deltas. He’s shown no sign of slowing down in the net and his experience should help keep the Penn FC defense properly aligned.

Next man up: Sean Lewis

Sean Lewis was effective when making spot starts last season, and expect him to fill that role again in 2018. If Peiser stays healthy and effective, you might only see Lewis during the Open Cup this season. But if it falls on Lewis to make a few starts, he’ll be more than capable.

Defenders: Pedro Galvao, Tiago Calvano, Ken Tribbett, Marco Franco

Calvano was effective at center back in 2017, so expect last season’s captain to get plenty of starts this season as well. Tribbett started every match for the City Islanders back in 2015, and he has shown himself to be an effective CB in the USL during his stints with Bethlehem Steel. Galvao has started at left back for most of the preseason, and he contributed an excellent goal against LIU- Brooklyn. His ability to get up and down the field will make him a contributor on both offense and defense. Franco brings a wealth of NASL experience to the right back position, and he’s the front runner to start there on opening day.

Next men up: Jake Bond and Kyle Venter

Jake Bond is another defender who’d be able to contribute on offense. Based on his performance last season, he may get some playing time along with Franco. Venter has spent plenty of time in the USL between LA Galaxy II, Tulsa Roughnecks, and Ottawa Fury. But don’t expect to see him during the first two matches as he works off a red card suspension from last season.

Holding Midfielders: Dan Metzger and Mauro Eustaquio

As soon as their signings were announced, these two men were the front runners for the defensive midfielder roles. Penn FC has struggled to score goals in recent seasons, and part of that struggle has been an inability to move the ball past the midfield. It’ll come down to Metzger and Eustaquio help get the offense set up.

Next man up: Ken Tribbett

I already have Tribbett lined up at center back, but he has also gotten minutes as a defensive midfielder before. If there’s a game where a larger presence is needed in the midfield, perhaps Tribbett will get the call.

Attacking Midfielders/Wingers: Aaron Dennis, Calvin Rezende, Jorge Rivera

This one is a little tough to call because Penn FC has been pretty hush-hush about most of the preseason lineups. All signs point to Rezende taking the role at the 10 for the offense, although it seems like Rivera could take that position as well. If he’s not at the 10, then Rivera will most likely work on the wing and as a set piece specialist. Dennis has scored twice during the preseason and he’s poised to keep up that scoring as the new players get more time working together.

Next men up: Salvatore Barone and Fabio De Sousa

Based on the players officially signed so far, Penn FC is currently a little light at this position. However, Barone and De Sousa are two young talents who might start as substitutes and then work their way into more time as the season progresses.

Striker: Saalih Muhammad

Here’s another position where Penn FC is currently pretty light. Muhammad scored during the preseason match against Bethlehem, and he would have made more of an impact last season with the San Francisco Deltas if he hadn’t torn his achilles. Now that he’s healthy, he’s poised to make an impact for Penn FC instead.

Next man up: TBD

As I said, there’s not many pure strikers on the roster. However, last year’s best striker, Ropapa Mensah, was loaned over from Ghana side Inter Allies just before the season started. There’s some hints that there may be more players making the switch for 2018, so be on the lookout for them.

Key Games

Penn FC at Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (March 31st)

Big rivals Penn FC and Pittsburgh ended up having very similar off-seasons. Both teams come into the match up with new looks, new coaches, and mostly new rosters. This clash on the night before Easter will be the first meeting of the new-look Keystone Derby cup and it has all the makings of an instant classic.

Penn FC vs Nashville SC (April 24th)

Penn FC will have their home opener against Charleston on the 21st and they’ll jump right back into action for their first ever match up against Nashville on Tuesday the 24th. This one will be extra meaningful because it’ll mark the return of last season’s breakout star, Ropapa Mensah, to City Island.

Penn FC at Toronto FC II (May 9th)

The last time Penn FC traveled to face Toronto FC II, they wound up in a wild 4-3 shootout. Don’t expect a repeat this season because Penn FC will be heading to Canada on the 9th after playing Tampa Bay on the 4th of May and Ottawa on the 7th. This is going to be Penn FC’s tightest three game stretch of the season, and seeing how well they can perform on tired legs will be a big indicator of how the rest of the season will go.

Penn FC at Bethlehem Steel (September 2nd)

This will be the second meeting between these PA rivals in 2018, and it will also be Penn FC’s final regular season away match. Penn FC gets to stay on City Island for their final nine matches, so if they’ve been struggling on the road, at least their struggles will be ending early.

Penn FC vs FC Cincinnati (September 22nd)

This one is special because it’s a home match and it’s on a Saturday. Sadly, Penn FC only has five Saturday home matches in 2018. FC Cincy should be an interesting match up this late in the season. Believe it or not, they have never won a match on City Island, having drawn there in both 2016 and 2017.


Trying to make predictions for the USL is far from an exact science. With that in mind, I have three possible scenarios to lay out for how Penn FC’s 2018 season will go.

Best Case Scenario for 2018

Penn FC manages to stay healthy through the season and some of their under the radar signings make a big impact right away. The new play makers on offense help provide a massive boost to goals scored compared to 2017 and the defensive unit greatly reduces the number of goals given up. They manage to consistently get wins over teams below them on the table like Toronto FC II or Richmond Kickers while also getting points from tougher match-ups like Charleston, Bethlehem, and Nashville. Most importantly, they continue to play tough at home and the nine match home stand at the end of the season allows them to gather enough points to jump into a playoff spot to end the season.

Worst Case Scenario for 2018

It takes the team a long time to come together as a unit, resulting in few points through March and April. Just when things start to gel, the crowded schedule leads to several key injuries. Younger players are forced to step in and other players are forced to play out of position to compensate. This makes it difficult to score goals, and wins are few and far between. Even the home games at the end of the season can’t help, and the teams winds up near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

My Prediction for 2018

The USL Eastern Conference for 2018 is bigger and stranger than ever before. There’s a pretty even mix of MLS hopefuls, former NASL teams, big-time MLS II teams, small-time MLS II teams, and small market independents. Penn FC has made some major changes for 2018 and that’s why it’s so tough to figure out where they’re going to fit in 2018.

Based on the players they’ve signed and the players they should be signing soon, I expect Penn FC to be a competitive, middle of the pack team in the Eastern Conference this season. They should be able to handle some of the weaker USL teams (sorry, Toronto FC II) and there’s no reason they can’t be competitive with even the best teams in the conference. That being said, they’re still more likely to come up on the losing side of matches against teams like Tampa Bay or Louisville. But I expect them to pull another big upset or two this season over a team at the level of Indy Eleven or FC Cincinnati.

Ultimately, with all of the talent coming into the Eastern Conference in 2018, I don’t see Penn FC making the top 8 at the end of the season. But I also don’t see them finishing last or next to last, as some people have predicted. I think they’ll put together a few solid runs of good play and ultimately fall somewhere between 9th-12th by year’s end.