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It’s Finally Time for the Penn FC Homestretch

Penn FC is geared up for nine straight matches at FNB Field to end the season

Penn FC

Whenever Penn FC’s playoff chances were discussed during the second half of the USL season, there was a sort of asterisk that most of the analysts would reference in passing. Basically, Penn FC would still have a chance to close in for a playoff spot because they would be ending their season with nine consecutive home matches. Now the time has finally arrived for what the team has dubbed, “The Homestretch.”

The team goes into The Homestretch sitting in 11th place in the USL Eastern Conference. But they’re only six points away from a playoff spot and they’ll have an opportunity to face most of the other playoff contenders over the next five weeks. So while the climb won’t be easy, Penn FC still controls their playoff destiny.

Penn FC has played their best this season when they’re on City Island, but could the tight home schedule actually come back to haunt them? The nine matches of The Homestretch will be compressed into five weeks on the calendar starting this Saturday. Playing for that many minutes is going to be a tall order, even if they team doesn’t have to leave Harrisburg.

With that thought in mind, I’ve broken down all nine matches of The Homestretch to try and determine where Penn FC will be looking to get the points they need to get up into the playoff positions. For the sake of comparison, I’ve also included the rest time (full days off between matches) for each squad as that’s likely to become important, especially towards the end of September.

1. Penn FC vs Atlanta United 2

Date and Time: Saturday, September 8th 7:00pm

Penn FC rest time: 5 days.

Opponent rest time: 6 days.

Storyline: Penn FC and ATL UTD 2 drew 1-1 early in the season, but that feels like a lifetime ago. Atlanta is down in 15th place in the East and Penn FC really needs to take all three points in this first match to keep from falling behind. But the biggest concern is that key goalscorers Lucky Mkosana and Aaron Dennis will be out on international duty and Isaac Osae will likely miss the match due to injury.

2. Penn FC vs Indy Eleven

Date and Time: Wednesday, September 12th 6:30pm

Penn FC rest time: 3 days.

Opponent rest time: 6 days.

Storyline: Penn FC and Indy also drew 1-1 early in the season but that was during Penn FC’s best run of play back in June. But Indy is used to playing on a large, turf pitch at Lucas Oil Stadium and this will be their first ever journey to City Island. Will that be enough to help Penn FC get the upset over the 6th place team in the East?

3. Penn FC vs North Carolina FC

Date and Time: Sunday, September 16th 6:00pm

Penn FC rest time: 3 days.

Opponent rest time: 7 days.

Storyline: Penn FC had a bad trip to North Carolina back in April and they suffered a rough 3-0 defeat. NC FC has had their share of ups and downs this season, but they’re hanging around just outside of the playoff spots with Penn FC. This will be a crucial match as it’ll show how well Penn FC can handle the short rest periods and because they’ll need to gain three points on their fellow playoff contenders before they go into the next three matches.

Pause for discussion: So Penn FC will still have eighteen points available after these three matches, but their chances might be all but decided by the time they reach this point in the season. If they drop too many points against these three teams, then they’re probably out of the playoff picture. On the other hand, if they can get nine points from these three matches, their hopes will be alive and well.

4. Penn FC vs Louisville City FC

Date and Time: Wednesday, September 19th 6:30pm

Penn FC rest time: 2 days.

Opponent rest time: 3 days.

Storyline: For the first time, one of Penn FC’s opponents will be coming to City Island on short rest. Louisville is currently second place in the East, but they allowed Penn FC to come from behind for an impressive 3-3 draw at Louisville back in June. And who could forget how the Harrisburg City Islanders upset the future USL champions on City Island in 2017. If Penn FC can keep their stamina up, they might actually be in a good position to take some points from this match.

5. Penn FC vs FC Cincinnati

Date and Time: Saturday, September 22nd 7:00pm

Penn FC rest time: 2 days.

Opponent rest time: 5 days.

Storyline: Cincy has already clinched a playoff spot for their final year in USL. They’re stacked with talent and they haven’t lost in months. But it’s possible that if Cincy has pretty much locked up the number one seed at this point in the season they may not send a full compliment to Harrisburg for this match. Penn FC could be in a position to get a point here as FC Cincinnati has never won a match on City Island.

6. Penn FC vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Date and Time: Wednesday, September 26th 6:30pm

Penn FC rest time: 3 days.

Opponent rest time: 3 days.

Storyline: This match will decide the winner of the Keystone Derby Cup and if Pittsburgh gets the win, they will also take home the Old Guard Shield. Pittsburgh has been at the top of the table all year, but they have had two 0-0 stalemates against Penn FC at home this season. They’d keep the cup if they draw in Harrisburg, but they’ll be looking for the win. Expect Penn FC to put everything behind the upset here. Both because they can win the cup and because if they defeat Pittsburgh they will be undefeated against Pennsylvania opponents in 2018.

Pause for discussion: Well that’s a pretty rough stretch right there as Penn FC plays the top three teams in the East over the course of eight days. But they’ve taken three points from four away matches against these teams, and even one win during this stretch could be enough to keep playoff hopes alive. There will be nine points left after this, so playoff scenarios should be fairly limited by this point.

7. Penn FC vs Charlotte Independence

Date and Time: Wednesday, October 3rd 6:30pm

Penn FC rest time: 6 days.

Opponent rest time: 3 days.

Storyline: Well would you look at that, Penn FC finally gets a bit of a breather. They’ll need it as they always seem to struggle against Charlotte, in much the same way they do against Richmond. But Charlotte is traveling on short rest and they’ve stumbled a bit late in the season. If they haven’t restored their form by this point, then Penn FC should be the favorites for this one.

8. Penn FC vs New York Red Bulls II

Date and Time: Tuesday, October 9th 6:30pm

Penn FC rest time: 5 days.

Opponent rest time: 2 days.

Storyline: The high scoring baby bulls currently sit in 7th place in the Eastern Conference, so they’ll probably be fighting for their playoff lives at this point in the season as well. They’ll be expecting three points against Penn FC before they have to finish their season against Pittsburgh. When Penn FC visited NYRBII back in August, they played one excellent half and one terrible half. Perhaps if they can put together a more consistent ninety minutes at home, they’ll be able to come away with points.

9. Penn FC vs Toronto FC II

Date and Time: Saturday, October 13th 7:00pm

Penn FC rest time: 3 days.

Opponent rest time: 3 days.

Storyline: So Penn FC will go into the final match of the season against the team that’s sitting at the bottom of the table. Their playoff options will be decided by this point, so it remains to be seen if this will only be playing for pride or if Penn FC will be playing for a playoff spot. But don’t count out TFCII if they get the chance to play spoiler. After all, they just beat down Louisville City 4-1.

Conclusion: In the end, it’ll help Penn FC immensely to be able to spend the last five weeks of the season at home. They have a lot of ground to make up, and much of that is their own fault. If they had been able to take some points from matches against teams like Richmond, Atlanta, and Ottawa, then they’d already be in a playoff position and they wouldn’t be on the outside looking in like they are now.

But at the end of the day, Penn FC has already won two in a row and they still have twenty-seven points up for grabs. They need to get to around fifty points to be fairly certain they’ll take a playoff spot, so that means they need eighteen more points before the season is done. It won’t be easy, but they’re still in the conversation for their first playoff berth since 2014.