The stakes for Bethlehem Steel and Penn FC were laid out clearly before their Sunday afternoon match. For Bethlehem, a win over their in-state rivals would solidify their playoff position in the Eastern Conference and would put them in the conversation for a top four finish and a home playoff match. Penn FC, on the other hand, desperately needed three points to keep their playoff hopes alive as they languished in the 13th position on the table. The Steel looked ready to take care of business as they expertly controlled the first 20 minutes of the match. But Penn FC made the necessary adjustments to storm back and take the win.
Everything was going Bethlehem’s way afrom the first touch and Penn FC found themselves struggling to defend the Steel’s attack. Olivier Mbazio used his speed on the right side to repeatedly get behind the Penn FC defense and cause trouble. Marcus Epps hit the woodwork in just the 7th minute off of a pass from Fabian Herbers and it felt like Bethlehem would be scoring early. In fact it was just a few minutes later when Epps capitalized off of a Herbers deflection to tuck away a low shot and put the Steel up 1-0.
Bethlehem pushed hard to add to their total, but the squad started to tire under the hot and humid weather. In addition, the Penn FC defense adjusted to the Steel’s tactics and fewer passes were finding their way into the box. Both teams were also slowed down by a few injury timeouts. Ken Tribbett dealt with some bleeding for Penn FC and Jake Bond collided with Bethlehem’s Prosper Chiluya in the 30th minute, which resulted in a lengthy delay.
It was shortly after this delay that Penn FC put away their first of the afternoon. For the third time this season, Aaron Dennis let loose a rocket from distance that blasted into the back of the net. The distance was especially easy to measure on this one as Goodman stadium was still lined from Saturday’s Lehigh University football game. Dennis netted his shot from about the 20-yard line to level the score at 1-1.
It felt like the Steel were upset after letting an opponent that they’d dominated equalize like that, so they tried to pick up the pace to find a second goal. However, they may have gotten a bit reckless, and that allowed Penn FC to find their second.
After a Bethlehem corner, Penn FC cleared the ball and Lucky Mkosana and Paulo Jr. were off to the races. Mbazio tried to close down on Paulo near midfield, but the veteran touched it past him to create a two-on-one with Mkosana against James Chambers. Paulo then slipped the ball to Mkosana who finished at the near post to put Penn FC up 2-1. It was Mkosana’s 10th of the season.
There was a good chunk of stoppage time due to the injuries, but neither side could score again before the half.
Bethlehem stormed out of the locker room looking for an equalizer and they wound up with the majority of chances in the second half. Drew Skundrich nearly had a goal in the 47th minute, but Penn FC goalkeeper Romu Peiser knocked it away with an acrobatic flying haymaker of a punch. It was the first of several crucial saves for him during the second half.
As the Bethlehem offense tried to make something happen, the defense started to get a little sloppy. This opened the door for another Penn FC goal in the 59th minute. Aaron Dennis slipped a through ball for Paulo Jr. and the Bethlehem back line thought they’d caught him offside. But the linesman didn’t raise his flag (Chiluya might have kept him on) and Jake McGuire couldn’t stop Paulo’s shot for the far post.
Not happy with this turn of events, the Steel brought in some familiar faces to try and chip away at the deficit. Santi Moar came on immediately after the goal and Chris Nanco was subbed on in the 70th minute. But Penn FC was able to park the bus a bit with their two goal lead and Peiser continued to play brilliantly in front of the net. The Penn FC subs in the form of Saalih Muhammed, Isaac Osae, and Haruna Shaibu represented some fresh legs who were able to run all over the pitch and frustrate the Steel’s attempts to establish a rhythm.
Ultimately the Steel couldn’t find a second goal as the Penn FC defense was able to lock hings down for the remained for the match. Bethlehem’s best chance came off of a Moar shot at the start of added time, but it was pushed wide. Stoppage time went to around eight minutes after an injury to Osae (more on that later) but the Steel didn’t manage a shot on goal during that time. Penn FC held on for the 3-1 win.
- The win for Penn FC put them back in 11th in the East, just six points away from a playoff spot. They’ll wish they brought a few more points home from their recent away stretch, but they certainly finished strong.
- Bethlehem doesn’t need to panic over the result as they still sit in 5th place in the East. But they only have five matches left to play while other teams like Penn FC have nine. If they start to drop down the table, they’ll struggle to regain position.
- One piece of bad news that might have been lost in the win is that Isaac Osae appeared to suffer a serious injury towards the end of the match. He limped off the field and then was carted off after the final whistle. It’ll be a huge blow if he misses extended time, especially with Aaron Dennis and Lucky Mkosana going off on international duty this week.