Penn FC loaded up with new talent during the offseason, which is why it was so disappointing for them to start off the season with four draws and two losses. There was plenty to dig into with their early season struggles, but the basic problem was that all the new players just weren’t clicking on the pitch yet. Because of this, many people, including yours truly, didn’t think they’d have a chance when the Tampa Bay Rowdies visited City Island on Friday night. However, Penn FC finally started clicking as they ultimately routed the Rowdies on the way to their first win of 2018.
Penn FC needs to prepare for six matches in three days, so they left a few of their typical starters out of Friday’s starting XI in anticipation. For example, veteran center backs Tiago Calvano and Ken Tribbett were rested in favor of allowing Harri Hawkins and Kyle Venter to anchor the center of Penn FC’s defense. In addition, the week off allowed Dan Metzger to return to the starting lineup after he missed the last few matches due to injury.
Neither team could get a rhythm going at the start of the match as it seemed like every bit of contact resulted in a whistle and a delayed restart. But it looked like Tampa Bay would be the bigger threat until Penn FC’s Jerry Ortiz lined up for a free kick in the 10th minute. He was a bit out of range to put a shot on goal, so he sent one into the box that found the head of Kyle Venter. Venter didn’t get a lot on his header, but he managed to put it into the space that Tampa Bay’s Cody Mizell had just vacated to put Penn FC up 1-0 early.
This is the same thing that happened when the Rowdies visited City Island in 2017. Back then, they responded with two quick goals in order to regain control of the match. They had no such luck on Friday night as they couldn't break through the Penn FC defense. The rhythm problems I mentioned earlier caused issues again as each team traded fouls and dealt with injury time. Frustration started to set in as Tampa Bay could only manage five shots, none of which were on goal. Penn didn’t get any more serious chances themselves, and the 1-0 scoreline held at the half.
When both teams came back on the pitch, it was once again Penn FC who pushed the early attack. Freddie Opoku made himself a nuisance down the right side, making a few shots and consistently dribbling dangerous balls into the edge of the box. This got him ready to make a big play right after Jerry Ortiz was subbed out for Aaron Dennis in the 57th minute.
Marco Franco was responsible for the Penn FC throw in, and he caught the Rowdies flat-footed. Franco sent his throw down the right sideline for Freddie to chase down. Freddie managed to catch up to the ball on the second bounce and sent it for Tommy Heinemann inside the box. Tommy was able to get ahead of his defender and headed the ball near post past Mizell to put Penn FC up 2-0.
Neither team seemed to know what to do with this turn of events. The Rowdies seemed dejected as they faced yet another multi goal deficit on the road. Meanwhile, Penn FC was jubilant at the turn of events because this was already their first multi goal game of the season.
Penn FC took advantage of the Rowdie’s lack of focus to score just three minutes later in similar fashion. This time the cross came from the left as the Tampa Bay defenders let Pedro Galvao have way too much time on the ball. Galvao calmly teed the ball up for his cross, then sent it in for Tommy again. Heinemann powered another header past Mizell to give Penn FC the 3-0 lead.
Ultimately, Penn FC never looked back from here. Tampa Bay subbed in Joe Cole and Leo Fernandes right after the third goal, but they didn’t make much of a change to the offense. The Rowdies were able to control possession and keep the ball in the offensive half, but they didn’t create many dangerous chances. They managed to win six corners during the second half, but none of them resulted in a shot on target. They even wound up with a man advantage after Penn FC’s Mauro Eustaquio went down with an injury.
Penn FC never shut things down completely and they even had a chance or two at a fourth goal. Lucky Mkosana was subbed in for Heinemann in the 74th minute and he spent the rest of the match breaking on the counter and forcing the Rowdies defense to try and chase him down. None of his shots made it past Mizell, but he was a threat that managed to force Tampa Bay defenders to hang back and he burned off a lot of precious time. Because of these efforts, the Rowdies rally never got started and the 3-0 scoreline would be final.
- It wasn’t all good news for Penn FC. Midfielder Mauro Eustaquio got tangled up with a Rowdies player towards the end of the match and went down clutching his knee. He never returned to the pitch and he was ultimately carted off the field. Hopefully he didn’t experience a break or a tear of any kind, but he’s likely to miss several matches.
- Let’s run down some firsts for Penn FC’s win. It was their first multi-goal match of the season and their first win. In addition, they scored more goals on Friday than they had all season. It was also the first time they defeated an opponent by more than three goals with a clean sheet since they beat FC Montreal 5-0 in September of 2015.
- Let’s not forget to give credit to the three excellent assists by Jerry Ortiz, Freddie Opoku, and Pedro Galvao during the match. Each sent an excellent long cross that the player on the receiving end was able to perfectly get behind and position their cross. When you talk about players getting together and really clicking, that’s what it looks like.