Match: Penn FC vs North Carolina FC
Date: Sunday, September 16th
Time: 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 p.m. Central, 3:00 p.m. Pacific, 10:00 p.m. UTC
Venue: FNB Field (City Island. Harrisburg, PA)
Refs: REF: Elvis Osmanovic AR1: Joe Zawistowski AR2: Justen Lopez 4TH: Melvin Holmes II
How to Watch: ESPN + (Subscription Required)
How North Carolina will look: The players for North Carolina FC have had other things on their mind this week as they dealt with incoming Hurricane Florence. According to the players on social media, the team took a bus out of NC on Thursday, which may have impacting their preparation for the week. Most USL teams travel the day before their matches.
But don’t assume they’ll be off their game just because of a little early travel. NC FC topped Penn FC 3-0 early in the season behind goals from Austin da Luz, Kyle Bekker, and Daniel Rios. All three players will be big threats to perform again on Sunday and Rios will be looking to stay in the USL Golden Boot race. And for any old school City Islanders fans out there, Ty Shipalane, who scored six times for the Islanders in 2009, will be visiting with NC FC.
How Penn FC will look: Penn FC has started off The Homestretch with an unexpected loss to ATL UTD 2 and an upset victory over Indy Eleven. But now they’re facing a team with an identical record, and the playoffs are on the line. Penn FC will need to perform because the next three teams on the horizon are Louisville, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.
Penn FC will have all of their players available after international duty, which will definitely help their chances. Lucky Mkosana has been at the center of some big victories for Penn FC this season, and they’ll need him to play well on Sunday. The other potential impact player will be Paulo Jr., who has continued to perform well as he gets settled in after joining Penn FC in the middle of the season. He has three goals from their last four matches.
What to Expect: Penn FC’s match against Indy was a bit sloppy because of the weather, but the outlook is good for Sunday. It has been sunny and warm in Harrisburg the last few days, which should allow the pitch to dry out some and the Susquehanna river to finally recede a bit. So players won’t be quite as worn down and the passes won’t be quite as slow as they were on Wednesday.
With both teams sitting just outside of the playoff picture, Sunday’s match is a must win in order to keep their hopes alive. So, much like a game of chess, there’s several opening gambits that the teams could try. Penn FC has struggled when their opponents start off attacking hard and fast (just see ATL UTD 2) so NC FC may try to put things away by throwing numbers forward in the first ten minutes.
Penn FC will probably take the opposite approach and try to slow the game down during the early going in order to get settled in and avoid any foolish mistakes. One bad goal could be enough to sink the team because they don’t do well when they have to chase from behind for extended periods. If Penn FC falls behind but then can’t equalize within the first ten minutes or so, they’re usually done for.
With so much on the line for both sides, things could get ugly in the final minutes depending on situation. Neither side wants a draw, so if they’re tied up late then look for both sides to be flying up and down the field looking for a winner. The safest thing for each team would be to not settle for a one goal lead during this match. They’ll need two or three at a minimum before they can start to feel safe.
PREDICTION: The USL has been all over the place this season with plenty of wild, unexpected results. I think things will balance out a little for this match with a 2-2 draw that doesn’t really help either side.
And don’t forget that there will be opportunities to donate towards Hurricane Florence relief during the match.