Match: Penn FC vs Bethlehem Steel
Date: Friday, July 6th
Time: 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Central, 4:00 p.m. Pacific, 11:00 p.m. UTC
Venue: FNB Field (City Island. Harrisburg, PA)
Refs: REF: Bardhyl Pashaj AR1: Zeno (Gyu Ho) Cho AR2: Kevin Lock 4TH: Dustin Killick
How to Watch: ESPN+ (Subscription Required) Service Electric (Bethlehem area)
What to expect: Because Brotherly Game covers both Penn FC and the Steel, Chris Bratton and Evan Villella took this opportunity to swap some questions to preview Friday’s match.
Chris Bratton: What has been the driving force behind the recent five match unbeaten streak for Bethlehem? I noticed that the improved form started around the time James Chambers came back from injury.
Evan Villella: Pace and endurance really are the two big factors, and they’re closely related. Wingers like Santi Moar, Chris Nanco and newcomer Michee Ngalina not only have speed, but they can run all game long it seems. Factor in that we don’t get much older than 25, and our relative youth has given us a never say die attitude that has really done well the last few weeks. James coming back definitely helped out and we still have Omar Holness somewhere in the shadows waiting foe his spot which should come in handy soon.
CB: Bethlehem struggles the most when they come out flat (for example, against Ottawa and 95% of the last NYRB II match). How do they avoid that against Penn FC?
EV: Not panicking I think is huge. To contradict myself, that relative inexperience can make some guys be a little eager to make a huge impact right away. There’s nothing wrong with waiting around, picking your spot and then trying to go for the kill. The opening goal given up to Ottawa just looked like everyone fell asleep which I haven’t seen before or since then so hopefully that doesn’t happen tomorrow.
CB: Who’s a returning Bethlehem player to watch out for on Friday? And who’s a new player for 2018 to keep an eye on?
EV: Matt Mahoney has turned into a 5 tool defender for us. Hes been deployed at both right and center back and seems to be at home in either position. He also grabbed his first goal a few weeks back against the Baby Bulls which was a good moment. Also returning is Santi Moar who has been even better than his rookie of the year nominated season last year. James Chambers is a huge impact player who is hitting some stupid good passes which has been a welcome addition.
New kids Brandon Aubrey and Michee Ngalina have really stood out. Aubrey joined up from Toronto FC II and has looked pretty confident 98% of the time and wins basically everything in the air. His passing and reading of the game out of the back is second to none and he might be able to lock up Lucky Mkosana (emphasis on might).
Ngalina is incredibly fast, has great ball skills and has done pretty well for himself in front of net as well. He can provide a great outlet for counter attacks and can really burn defenders out wide. That might be a bit of a challenge for older backlines or teams with less composure.
EV: No one, maybe outside of yourself would’ve thought Penn FC would be in this spot at all this year. What’s the big difference in Penn FC compared to last year’s Harrisburg team?
CB: Well I think the biggest change between how 2017 unfolded compared to 2018 is that the team is staying much healthier this year. Guys were picking up injuries through May and June in 2017 and it really made for a tough summer as they struggled to come back. There’s been a few short injury spells in this season and one player (Mauro Eustaquio) who’s done for the year, but beyond that it has been pretty good.
And Penn FC has been fortunate because they were able to pick up some major talent this year because of the cancelled NASL season. You’ve got scorers like Lucky Mkosana and Tommy Heinemann who were available along with other dependable players like Richard Menjivar, Pedro Galvao and Marco Franco. Now that they’ve spent a few months playing together their chemistry has really improved.
EV: How is Ken Tribbett? He’s settled in nicely there from what I’ve seen which is good to see. What do you think has lead to his success this year so far?
CB: Ken has been doing great. He has the four goals because he’s such a big target during set pieces and he takes advantage of his opportunities. He can really get high up there, especially on that goal against Nashville.
I think that the team and the coaches got behind Ken from the start of the season and he has rewarded their confidence with some really solid performances. They brought him in and gave him the captain’s armband right away because they believed in him. I think that vote of confidence boosted his spirits and that has translated well on the field.
EV: The project of Rush Soccer starting a pro team has been a success as far as results go in my opinion. Is there any backroom or behind the scenes stuff happening that we don’t see that has lead to success or we could see down the road? Like has building the academy up first paid off as far as Penn FC is concerned?
CB: Yeah it’s good to see the success come early on and there’s a few Rush grads who have contributed to that. Tribbett is a former Rush player and Miguel Jaime has contributed in the midfield as well. I think that it’ll be helpful down the road that there will be young prospects who might be aiming to join Penn FC in particular and potentially stick around for a while. That’ll be a big improvement compared to recent City Islanders season where almost the entire roster was gone at the end of the season.
The Rush Academy is super spread out compared to the Union Academy, so I’m not the best judge of who’d be expected to come to Penn FC in the future. But it has been exciting to see the kids from across the country sharing their support for Penn FC and I think the players have enjoyed having that support as well. They certainly seem to be having fun interacting with them on social media.
Prediction: I’m going to forgo predicting the score for this one, but it can’t be overlooked how nicely this match had shaped up. Neither team has lost in over a month and they’re sitting just one point apart at the midpoint of the season. If you can’t make it out to City Island, be sure to tune in for this one.