For their first official match in 2018, Penn FC walked onto the same pitch that the Harrisburg City Islanders walked off of to end their 2017 campaign. Harrisburg was on the wrong end of a 4-0 defeat that night last October, but with all of their offseason improvements, it felt like the newly named Penn FC could be able to turn the tables on the Charleston Battery. Ultimately, the only difference was in the scoreline as Penn FC would drop their opener 1-0.
After keeping most of their roster decisions under wraps during the preseason, Penn FC went with some interesting choices for their first starting XI in 2018. The 3-5-2 formation that new coach Raoul Voss went with felt like a good middle ground to help provide a solid defensive base for a team that gave up way too many goals in 2017 while also giving attacking options to help boost last season’s dismal number of goals scored.
The success of the formation defensively would hinge upon the ability of left back Pedro Galvao and right back Marco Franco to move up and down the pitch as the pace of the game demanded. In order for the formation to work offensively, it would be necessary for new teammates Jorge Rivera and Lucky Mkosana to work together to create chances.
It’s also interesting to consider where these players came from last season. Of the eighteen players available for Penn FC on Saturday, only four of them (Calvano, Lewis, Bond, Hill) were playing for Harrisburg last season. In fact, of the starting eleven, eight of them were playing in the NASL last season. Of the remainder, two were signed to MLS teams and one (Calvano) was in the USL.
The new Penn FC players wasted no time in getting the attack started, earning a corner kick within the first minute of the match. However, the corner didn’t amount to much, and that proved to be an ongoing theme for them the entire night. Despite controlling possession 55% to 45% and maintaining a 74.8% rate in passing accuracy, Penn FC failed to create meaningful chances in the offensive third. By the end of the first half, they had only managed one shot, and it wasn’t even on goal.
Despite the offensive struggles, the defense held up well. Penn FC wasn’t getting many chances, but neither was Charleston. They only had one shot in the first half as well, and it was easily blocked away from the goal. The Battery’s biggest concern during the fist half was when they were forced to make an early substitution for injury as Nicholas Rittmyer was pulled early in favor of Victor Mansaray in the 26th minute.
With both sides so evenly matched, it felt like anybody’s game when the teams returned for the second half. But Penn FC’s struggle to create offensive chances continued, and despite winning possession they couldn’t put a shot on goal. Meanwhile, Charleston was able to push for quick attacks on Penn FC’s goal, and it began to feel like they could break through at any time.
The breakthrough for Charleston finally came in the 62nd minute as Guerra was able to shake two Penn FC defenders to get enough space to curl a shot for the far post. Goalkeeper Romu Peiser couldn’t get to it, and the Battery had the 1-0 lead.
Penn FC made an attempt to shake things up offensively shortly thereafter as they used their first substitution to bring on Saalih Muhammad for Jorge Rivera. However, Penn FC still struggled to find the final pass that would allow them to put a shot on goal, and their attack continued to peter out without a quality chance. The best opportunity came in the 84th minute when Mkosana had a ball fall at his feet near the edge of the box, but his shot was sent high and wide.
One controversial moment came late in the match as Charleston substitute Patrick Okonkwo was shown a straight red card for a foul that wasn’t clearly caught on camera. The referee must have seen the violent conduct go down as he did not hesitate to reach for the red card. Unfortunately for Penn FC, Okonkwo was substituted in as a striker, the the ten men advantage for the final minutes didn’t have much of an impact.
When the final whistle blew, Penn FC had only managed to take three shots, none of which were on goal. The team should be pleased with their improvements on defense, but they’ll have plenty to work on as they prepare to travel to Pittsburgh next Saturday.
- While he didn’t get a chance to take many shots, Lucky Mkosana showed an impressive work rate as he was all over the field Saturday night. He was always threatening the Charleston defenders, but then several times he showed up all the way back in the Penn FC defense helping to disrupt passes.
- Romu Peiser only made one save Saturday night, but it was a good one. He was one on one with Okonkwo (who had appeared to be offside, but whatever) in the 85th minute, but he wasn’t flustered by his position. Okonkwo waited too long to pick his shot and tried to power a low ball past the keeper, but Peiser easily stuck his foot out to turn it away.