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Penn FC falls to ATL UTD 2 on their first match of The Homestretch

Two first half goals by ATL UTD 2 doom Penn FC

Penn FC

Penn FC spent almost two whole months away from City Island before they finally made their return on Saturday night. The time away from home had been rough, but the team could still control their own destiny if they could perform over their nine match end-of-the-season Homestretch. However, they weren’t able to help themselves get ahead on Saturday night as they ultimately fell to ATL UTD 2 by a 2-1 scoreline.

Penn FC’s lineup was tested with three players away for international duty, so they went with a pretty fresh look for Saturday’s match. Saalih Muhammed took over Lucky Mkosana’s role at striker and Calvin Rezende made his first start in the midfield in some time. Isaac Osae was initially listed on the bench, but Prince Baffoe made an appearance in his place.

Some poor fool (it was me) suggested that Atlanta could try and jump on Penn FC to score a quick goal and force the offensively depleted team to play from behind. Well that’s exactly what they did. In just the third minute of the game, Jon Gallagher sent a cross in from the right to Devon Sandoval right in front of the goal. Sandoval blasted a header past Romu Peiser and just like that, Penn FC was down a goal.

Now, in the past, Penn FC has responded to going a goal down with a burst of energy that saw them equalize quickly and maybe even steal a quick lead. But that was not how the team responded on Saturday. Sure, there was a quick boost to the attack, but Atlanta was able to push Penn FC wide and then knock away the incoming crosses. When a ball did get through, Atlanta goalkeeper Alec Kann was a brick wall for most of the first half. He made several dazzling stops on the way to a five save performance.

When Penn FC finally did equalize in the 34th minute, it was courtesy of their top available goalscorer, Ken Tribbett. Penn FC began to win corners against Atlanta and while the first shots were usually off, they were able to maintain possession and send a second or third ball into the box on most corners. That’s what happened with this one as Richard Menjivar crossed it for an unmarked Tribbett who bounced a ball for the far post that Kann couldn’t reach.

Penn FC was happy to finally equalize, but they were unable to see it through to the second half. After Muhammed and Miguel Jaime nearly put Penn FC ahead, Atlanta’s Andrew Carleton used his speed on the counter to find space just outside the Penn FC box. Much like on Tibbett’s goal, he send a bouncing shot (that may have taken a deflection) that snuck past a diving keeper to slip by just inside the post. Atlanta headed into the locker room with a 2-1 lead as some light rain moved into the area.

Penn FC returned to the pitch ready to try anything to score another equalizer, but nothing they tried seemed to work. The team was fighting against the weather and all of the energy they’d expended during the first half. Most of the attack relied on their wide players like Marco Franco and Walter Ramirez to come forward and send a cross into the middle for a header. While they were able to give good service, Atlanta adapted by loading up the box and very few clean headers were available.

As time began to run out, Penn FC looked for new ideas but they couldn’t break through. Tribbett relocated and was basically playing as a striker for the last twenty minutes or so and substitutes Fabio de Sousa and Prince Baffoe helped change the formation into a more offensively minded one. But they couldn’t break through the defense and Atlanta burned off a lot of time by busting up plays in the midfield.

Penn FC had five minutes of added time to work with, but they didn’t end up with any more shots on goal. The 2-1 scoreline from the half would be the final as well. Shortly after the final whistle blew, the drizzle that had persisted throughout most of the second half finally turned into a full, steady rainfall.

EXTRA THOUGHTS:

  1. As if there weren’t enough roster issues for Penn FC, they’ll now be without Ken Tribbett and Jake Bond for their next match as they both picked up their fifth yellow cards of the season during the match.
  2. The loss doesn’t eliminate Penn FC from the playoff conversation, but it makes the tasks ahead that much more difficult. They pretty much have to take a win or two off of Louisville, Cincy, or Pittsburgh at the end of the month, which is a pretty tall order.
  3. Lucky Mkosana most likely won’t be back for Wednesday’s match, but Aaron Dennis might be. He started for the US Virgin Islands squad that faced a tough 8-0 defeat at the hands of Canada on Sunday.