Match: Penn FC at North Carolina FC
Date: Saturday, April 28th
Time: 7 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Central, 4 p.m. Pacific, 11 p.m. UTC
Venue: Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park (Cary, North Carolina)
Refs: REF: JJ BILINSKI AR1: JEFFREY SWARTZEL AR2: RYAN GRAVES 4TH: ROBERT DAIL
How to Watch: ESPN+ (Subscription Required)
How NC FC will look: The former Carolina Railhawks, formerly of the NASL, have stuggled during their first season in the USL. They started off the year dropping matches to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Richmond Kickers, and Indy Eleven before an impressive 2-0 win over their in-state rivals, Charlotte Independence. But they followed up that win with two consecutive away draws against Toronto FC II and Ottawa Fury. The Fury draw was particularly painful as the equalizer came off of a late NC FC own goal. Saturday’s match will be NC FC’s first home match against a team that wasn’t a previous NASL squad.
The brightest star for NC FC so far in 2018 has been Daniel Rios. The Liga MX loanee has managed to score three goals in just five appearances for the club. He has played well along with Dutch international Marios Lomis. Lomis has provided two of NC FC’s assists so far this season as well as a goal of his own.
How Penn FC will look: Penn FC just wrapped up their fourth consecutive draw on Tuesday night against Nashville SC. And just a few days before that, they battled back for a 1-1 draw against the Charleston Battery. Just five games into the season and a real pattern is starting to develop for this team. They’re not allowing many goals, but they continue to struggle to find any of their own.
The lineup for Saturday’s match should be a hybrid of the starters for their previous two matches. The Charleston lineup featured most of the typical starters (minus Tommy Heinemann) while the Tuesday lineup featured a lot of player rotation to rest some of those same players. But a few of these subs played well enough on Tuesday that they may be in the conversation for a start on Saturday.
What to expect: Both of these teams had high hopes coming into 2018, but they find themselves in 13th and 14th place in the Eastern Conference standings. Each of these teams can play much better than they have, but just a few mistakes have cost them important points that have left them at the bottom of the standings. Saturday’s match is the perfect chance for one of these teams to jump start their season, so who will seize the opportunity?
NC FC will need to return to the style that got them their big win over Charlotte. They can allow the other team to take a lot of possession, but they’ll need to be ready to spring a big counter in order to try and get one past the Penn FC defense. Penn FC hasn’t allowed many goals, but they have the potential to be beaten with speed if they’re not careful.
Penn FC has struggled mightily to score, but that doesn’t mean they have to tear everything down and try to reinvent their whole system. They’ve had plenty of heartbreaking near misses that should start turning into goals as the season progresses. Even though the goals haven’t come yet, the stats have shown a huge improvement since they only managed three shots during their opening match.
Look for Penn FC to push forward early to see if they can catch NC FC off guard. They only held a lead during one match so far this season, but they seemed much more comfortable playing ahead than they did when they’ve been playing from behind. If they can manage that quick goal, then they can hopefully rely on their solid defensive until to carry them over the line. And once the pressure’s off, maybe they’ll find an additional security goal or two.
PREDICTION: The safe bet for this match is a draw, but I’m not going with the safe bet on this one. I think Penn FC builds on their two most recent performances and picks up a 2-1 win.