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Penn FC youth team aiming for national championship wearing the badge of the former pro team

Penn FC’s U17 girls team kicks off their U.S. Youth Soccer national championship campaign Tuesday

Matt Ralph

It’s been three years since Penn FC suited up as a professional team in the United Soccer League, but the badge that came out of the rebrand of the Harrisburg City Islanders will again be on the national stage this week in the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships in Florida.

Penn FC Youth’s U17 girls team is among the local teams representing Eastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey at the annual competition that is being staged for the first time since 2019.

That they had to beat a fellow Harrisburg-area team to book a spot in the national championships at the Eastern Regionals earlier this month felt all the more appropriate for a team coached by former City Islanders legend and Middletown native Jason Pelletier.

Penn FC vs Eagle FC in the U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships on July 1, 2021
Matt Ralph

Pelletier’s team was down 1-0 to their local rivals Eagle FC but staged a second half comeback and ended up winning 3-1.

“We’ve worked so hard for this for so many years,” said Katelyn Economopoulos (pictured above) after the regional final win. “We have a really strong team this year, but this is just the first step. We have to keep working hard to win a national championship.”

While Economopoulos and her teammates had to overcome a familiar foe in Eagle FC to book a spot in the national championships, they’ll face teams from Utah, Georgia and Missouri in group play this week aiming for one of the top two spots to advance to the semifinals. They kick off their first game Tuesday at 10 a.m. against Utah Celtic.

A national title would be a big deal not only for the club but also for central Pennsylvania, which despite being a hotbed for soccer now finds itself without a professional team since the professional Penn FC club went dormant after the 2018 season.

Jason Pelletier (left) and Bill Becher (right) on the sidelines during Penn FC U17 Lightning’s 3-1 win over Eagle FC in the U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional championship on July 1, 2021.
Matt Ralph

“It’s unfortunate we don’t have a professional team still because there’s so much talent in central Pennsylvania but it’s great to be able to coach with a team (affiliated with a team) I played for,” said Pelletier, who made 141 appearances with the City Islanders from 2008-2014 and started coaching some of the girls on the U17 Lightning team when he was still playing professionally. “I started with some of these girls at U9 so I’ve seen them grow up on and off the field.”

Formerly known as LDC United, the club changed its name to Penn FC Youth when the City Islanders rebranded in 2017. Former City Islanders head coach Bill Becher was then and remains the director of coaching for the youth club.

“Hopefully some day there will be a pro team again and we’ll be connected to it,” Becher said in an interview after the Lightning won the regional final.

For now the Penn FC name and badge lives on at the youth level as the U17 girls team steps into the spotlight with a national championship trophy on the line.

“I’m extremely happy for these girls; they really deserve it,” Becher said.

The Lightning’s third group match against Sporting Saint Louis Rangers on Thursday at 8 a.m. will be streamed live via U.S. Youth Soccer (check the website for links).