On Friday night in New Jersey, Penn FC managed to put together one of their best matches and one of their worst at the same time. They have established their credentials as a real “second half team” in 2018 and that was on full display during the match. The whole Jekyll and Hyde act was all the more obvious because of how outmatched they had seemed during the first half. If Penn FC continues to play the first half of their matches like that, then there’s no way they’ll be able to get ahead in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff race.
Friday night’s lineup was similar to the one they had used against Charlotte. The only change for Friday was that Pedro Galvao returned to starting at left back after Harri Hawkins stepped in last week. But overall, they tended to stick to the 4-4-2 style that they used against Charlotte. Just like during that match, this lead to their offense sputtering. However, unlike during the Charlotte match this formation wasn’t able to hold up on defense.
The younger NYRB II squad took control of the match early and they ran all over Penn FC during the first half. Penn FC was almost constantly playing on their heels as NYRB II controlled possession and made some dangerous shots on goal. They would finish the half with seven shots on goal and it was only thanks to some bad mistakes by the Baby Bulls and some great saves by Romu Peiser that they only managed to score twice.
Both of the Red Bull’s goals followed the same pattern. In the 19th minute, Jared Stroud made a run down the right side and passed back for Andrew Tinari for the opening goal. Then again in the 25th minute Jose Aguinaga made a run up the right side and passed back to Tom Barlow. Barlow practically dribbled the ball into the net to make it 2-0. Penn FC calmed down a bit after that and they nearly pulled one back in the 40th minute, but Evan Louro made a point blank save to deny Paulo Jr. Penn FC went into the locker room looking like they were going to have a particularly long day at the office.
But Head coach Raoul Voss worked some of his usual halftime magic, and the team that returned to the pitch for the second half seemed like a completely different squad. Voss made two substitutions at the half as he brought on Ghanaian’s Prince Baffoe and Isaac Osae to try and boost the attack. This ended up paying off almost immediately.
Baffoe and Osae immediately started creating chances and taking a few cracks at the goal. Their efforts were largely frustrated by the phenomenal play of Louro and Osae once again struggled with staying onside. The breakthrough finally came in the 57th minute as Louro couldn’t handle a bouncing header from Osae which allowed Lucky Mkosana to finish the rebound for his 8th goal of the season. With the Penn FC offense firing on all cylinders, it felt like the comeback was certain.
Except it wasn’t. Penn FC kept up the pressure by the Red Bulls were able to bunker down some and make things difficult. They still managed to send multiple passes across the face of the goal, but each time the intended recipient was just a step or two away from finishing for the equalizer. The Red Bulls also did their best to try to put the game away with a goal of their own. Their counters helped wear out the Penn FC attackers while also eating up plenty of the clock.
Things started to get a little chippy towards the end, such as when Peiser made an ugly challenge on what looks to be a dead ball. The refs conferred amongst themselves, but the final decision was a yellow card. With little time to work with, Penn FC couldn’t find any more dangerous chances. The burst of energy after the half had been helpful, but the Red Bulls defense was able to spread them out and they never got another good opportunity for an equalizer. The loss means that Penn FC is dangerously close to falling out of the very crowded USL Eastern Conference playoff picture.