As I pointed out in my most recent match recap, Penn FC is a team looking for an identity. They had been in a string of tight draws that didn’t provide a lot of information about the team’s style or how they could be expected to play going forward. With Saturday’s match against North Carolina FC, it looked like the team was looking to try a new approach and help break some of their early season bad habits. Unfortunately, and this is a pretty big understatement, things did not go according to plan.
Saturday’s lineup for Penn FC was a significant departure from what they had used in their first five matches. So far this year, Penn FC has used a 3-5-2 formation that allowed them to keep a lot of defenders back, but that seemed to make it tougher for them to create scoring chances. So the switch to a 4-4-2 felt like an attempt to shake things up and break through their offensive slump.
Except it’s never that easy to break down Penn FC’s exact formation during a match. While the team gave a listing of a 4-4-2 formation, the display lines up more like a 4-2-3-1 formation. To make matters even more complicated, the USL recap lists their formation as a 3-4-1-2. Any of these options appears to be plausible, especially as the team made a double personnel change at half time.
The fresh approach to the starting XI made it feel like things for be different for Penn FC in this match, and in a way they were. But they started off dealing with many of their old habits in the first few minutes. North Carolina FC was able to control possession and offensive opportunities were limited for Penn FC. Jerry Ortiz managed a shot around the ten minute mark, but it was pretty far off the mark.
Penn FC was able to hold up defensively at first, but issues began to arise after the 20th minute. There were multiple dangerous chances for North Carolina FC in the 22nd minute as Kyle Bekker and Steven Miller both had good opportunities inside the box. Fortunately for Penn FC, Romu Peiser was up to the task of making the save.
Not long after that, Penn FC has their worst ten minutes of play so far in 2018. NC FC would find the back of the net three times in humbling fashion. Austin da Luz started the scoring in the 29th minute when he headed in a Bekker cross past a diving Peiser. It was the first goal that Penn FC had allowed in the first half all season.
The second goal came just six minutes later as the Penn FC defense failed to regain their focus after the first goal. This time it was Peabo Doue who sent a cross from the left looking for Daniel Rios. The ball went over Rios’ head as he went to the ground. Rios begged for a foul, but the ball had gotten to Bekker who chipped it back over Peiser’s head and into the goal. Bekker was all smiles and the Penn FC defense was frustrated at giving up multiple goals for the first time this season.
Penn FC paid once more for lack of focus as Bekker was once again involved in an NC FC goal in the 37th minute. Rios won a ball deep in Penn FC territory and poked it loose over to an onrushing Bekker. Peiser came out to try and collect the ball, but Bekker maintained enough possession to slip the ball over to Rios who passed it into the open net. With that goal, Penn FC was down by more goals than they had scored in their first five matches.
Penn FC attempted to shake things up at halftime by subbing in Aaron Dennis and Pedro Galvao for Jerry Ortiz and Richard Menjivar respectively. Dennis managed a shot in the second half, but the substitutions failed to make a big impact on Penn FC’s offensive chances.
It looked like Penn FC had finally broken through in the 68th minute, but it was not to be. Mauro Eustaquio was one on one with NC FC goalkeeper Alex Tambakis after stealing the ball from an inattentive Futty Danso. With an NC FC defender closing in, Eustauio attempted to chip Tambakis, but he had enough spring in his legs to get up an knock the ball away. Tommy Heinemann nearly got the rebound, but it was out of his reach. Penn FC had no major chances after that, and the 3-0 scoreline would hold in favor of NC FC.
So where does Penn FC go from here? The boys in blue will have to hope that Saturday’s performance was simply out of character for them. For a tough defensive team to just completely lose the script like that was more than a little unexpected. They tried to really shake things up and they paid the price for it. The real test comes next Friday when they come home to face the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Will they bounce back from this defeat, or will it cast a shadow over their next few matches?