Two of the USL Eastern conference’s hottest teams took the pitch Friday night on City Island as they looked to secure their position heading into the midpoint of the season. The Steel brought a younger, faster squad that they hoped could spend the evening troubling the Penn FC defense. But the more experienced Penn FC players were out to prove that they could handle the pressure.
Penn FC was able to seize the initiative out of the gate, but they weren’t able to capitalize on any of their opportunities in the first ten minutes. Bethlehem picked up the advantage from there, and they nearly took the lead in the 13th minute when Chris Nanco used his speed to collect a through ball and get one-on-one with Penn FC goalkeeper Romu Peiser. Peiser came out to shut Nanco down, but he slipped around him and fired a shot on the open goal. But Penn FC defender Kyle Venter never gave up on the play and he booted the shot out for a corner kick. It’s enough to make you wonder, can a defender be nominated for save of the week?
Bethlehem didn’t have to wait much longer to find the opening goal as Fabian Herbers found a golden opportunity in the 17th minute. Herbers was given too much space at the top of the box, so as he worked his way to the right he cut back to fire a low shot for the left post. Peiser couldn’t get a hand to it, and it was 1-0 in favor of Bethlehem.
In recent years, the Harrisburg City Islanders struggled when they fell behind early. But Penn FC has shown a remarkable ability to play from behind this season, and Friday was no exception. After giving up the goal to Bethlehem, Penn FC jump on the gas to find an equalizer. They didn’t have to wait long as Lucky Mkosana sprung Isaac Osae with a pass from midfield and Osae sent a rocket at Bethlehem keeper Jack McGuire. Mcguire made an excellent save, but Freddie Opoku was there to put away the rebound and equalize in the 20th minute.
Penn FC kept up the pressure after the equalizer, and they took the lead off of a set piece in the 25th minute. It was Venter who first got his head on a corner kick that McGuire tried to tap up over the bar. Unfortunately for him, it rebounded off of the bar to an open Mkosana who emphatically headed it in to put Penn FC up 2-1.
Penn FC kept up the pressure for the remainder of the first half, but they didn’t find the back of the net again. That was partly because a few of the better opportunities were sent up into the stands instead of on frame, and it was partly because McGuire was dominant in goal Friday night. He’d ultimately finish the game with nine saves.
Bethlehem pressed for an equalizer when they returned for the second half, but it was Penn FC again who had the better scoring opportunities. Penn FC scored their third in the 55th minute behind another rocket shot from Isaac Osae. Paulo Jr. found an open Mkosana at the top of the Bethlehem box, but Mkoana quickly slipped it wide for Osae. Osae beat McGuire by putting his shot in the top right corner when McGuire was expecting him to go for the left. Osae’s second of the season gave Penn FC a much more comfortable 3-1 lead.
But sometimes a two goal lead isn’t enough to stop the Bethlehem Steel. Just ask NYRB II. Bethlehem pushed hard to try and start the comeback, but they got in their own way several times. They also made some mental mistakes, like when Herbers picked up a yellow in the 68th minute for squirting water at a Penn FC player. Fresh substitutes in the form of Drew Skundrich and Tonny Temple also couldn’t break through the Penn FC defense.
The Steel were finally able to claw one back with a penalty in the 82nd minute after Oliver Mbazio drew a foul in the box. Calvin Rezende closed too hard on Mbazio and took his feet out and the referee didn’t hesitate to point to the spot. Herbers buried the penalty to earn a brace and pull the team within one. James Chambers then picked up a yellow while tussling with Peiser over the ball.
The Steel had about ten minutes to work with, but Penn FC had better attacking chances in the final minutes. The Penn FC veterans were able to burn through a significant amount of the clock and the Steel only had four minutes of added time to work with. Ultimately the Steel didn’t even get off a shot in added time, and Penn FC would have made it 4-2 if it weren’t for some last second heroics for McGuire. The 3-2 scoreline would stand as the final whistle blew. Penn FC’s unbeaten run would extend to six matches while Bethlehem’s came to an end after five.
- This is the third consecutive year that Bethlehem has allowed three goals in their first match of the season against Penn FC/Harrisburg City Islanders. The final score was 3-2 in favor of Harrisburg last season and 3-1 in a match at Clipper Magazine Stadium in 2016.
- Lucky Mkosana extended his scoring streak Friday night and he now has six goals in four matches. He only needs one more goal to tie Ropapa Mensah’s team leading seven goals from 2017. Pretty impressive when you consider it’s only the halfway point of the season.
- After the weekend’s results, Penn FC now sits at 8th place in the Eastern Conference while Bethlehem has slipped down to 10th. But don’t put too much stock into that just yet. After all, there’s only five points separating the 6th place team and the 12th place time right now.