This Match Could Prove Decisive in the Race for the Top Spot in Conference as Both Clubs Enter the Match with Undefeated Records
Published Jun 17, 2021
Photo Credits: Penn Fusion SA Media


Tonight brings the WPSL a high-powered showdown in the Mid-Atlantic Conference as Lehigh Valley Tempest and Penn Fusion square off in a match with serious top-of-the-table implications. The two high-flying clubs have been in spectacular form, with Lehigh Valley taking 16 points from their previous 6 games and Penn Fusion going a perfect four-for-four so far this season as league play begins to approach the home stretch. With the two clubs occupying the top two positions in the Mid-Atlantic Conference table, a positive result for either side in this fixture could end up being the decider in who finishes in that top spot.


The four-time conference champion Penn Fusion looks like they are at full value to push forward towards a fifth title with their red-hot offense and organized resolute defense. Historically, Penn Fusion has been known for their offensive firepower, with the club scoring 122 goals over 39 regular-season games in their first four seasons, and head coach Scott Bissets' side have shown no signs of slowing down in that regard. The West Chester club has been scoring at a remarkable clip in 2021, recording 15 goals in their four matches thus far, and have been led in attack by the sparkling form of former U.S. U-19 international Rachael Dorwart, who has six goals in her last four games.


In their 4-0 victory over Torch FC on June 6th, Penn Fusion was able to use the strong wing play of their outside midfielders and their overlapping fullbacks to beat their opponents down the line to cross or to cut in and shoot. This freedom to run up the wings was anchored by stellar movement in the middle of the park by their holding midfielders, who were set up in a tactically-dextrous defensive triangle with their center-backs, allowing for the facilitation of offensive play as well as offering defensive solidity if caught on the counter. This tactic bolsters an already resolute defensive scheme on display this season, with the side only conceding once in their first four matches.   


Fusion’s solid anchor in midfield allowed them to demonstrate a superb ability to dominate possession in the middle of the park. With their midfield operating as a cohesive unit, players were able to step into attack or move into open spaces in possession with the knowledge that a teammate would rotate into the void they left in support. They were able to link up well with both the defense and attack to maintain possession of the ball and cycle it into either half of the field confidently.


Their hosts on Thursday, Lehigh Valley Tempest, are carving out a standout season for themselves in 2021 with the club on pace to finish with their best record since their inaugural 2017 season and their highest placed finish ever in NPSL. After two seasons of finishing mid-table, the club has come out with a bang this year and looks like real contenders to claim the conference as their own. Getting offensive production from throughout their lineup, Lehigh Valley has exploded in front of goal this season scoring 13 goals through their first 6 games, one goal short of their scoring tally over the last two seasons combined. This production is aided by strong, selfless team play and a willingness to get forward into the attack.


 In their most recent match against Torch FC, Lehigh Valley showed their ability to press their opponents high into their  defensive end to win  the ball back and launch attacks, employing a different approach than their upcoming opponents did against the same side. While Fusion relied on their resolute defensive shape to win the ball back against Torch, Head Coach Erik Burstein has his side keen to take possession back by denying Torch time on the ball and by doubling up defensively when a Torch player was isolated in possession. Lehigh Valley was able to create opportunities against Torch by utilizing their strong passing game and their intelligent movement to find space between their opponent’s lines, with quick one-twos, decisive through-balls, and timely switches highlighting their offensive repertoire.



Much like Penn Fusion, Lehigh Valley has strong wing play and uses that to break down an opponent both vertically and across the pitch. Differing from Penn Fusion, Lehigh will often use their players on the wing to drive play and maintain possession and will then look to create overloads in the area of possession to draw an opponent’s numbers in before switching the ball to a player outside of the overloaded area to attack in space. The utilization of both width and vertical space on the pitch allow Lehigh Valley to stretch their opponents and create vulnerabilities to exploit within their structure.


Both sides have shown clinical offensive abilities and near-impenetrable defenses so far this season, but where this match may very well be won is in the midfield. Penn Fusion’s possession-based game vs Lehigh Valley’s high-energy press and how either side reacts to these tactics will likely dictate how this match shapes up. Both sides are led by coaches with astute and dynamic tactical outlooks, so the teams certainly won’t be married to these ways of playing and will be fluid in their adjustments, but they will certainly be set out to impose themselves and their way of playing on their opponent.


With the Mid-Atlantic Conference shaping up to be a two-horse race, this matchup will be crucial for the aspirations of these two sides and their untarnished records. With neither side showing any real signs of breaking stride in this race to the top, a slip-up here could be all there is between first and second when the season ends. Thursday’s matchup should provide fans with a real spectacle of tactical, attacking soccer and these two heavyweights will be looking to leave it all out on the pitch as they look to reign supreme once the dust settles in the Mid-Atlantic.   



Tonight’s match kicks off at 7:00 pm ET at Kutztown State University in Kutztown, PA, and can be streamed live on Eleven Sports, formerly known as MyCujoo, the official streaming partner of the WPSL.


    Author:  Ryan Lindsay;  @noryannorreason (twitter)
    WPSL Contributor - East Region