We are the Champions, Penn FC Lightning make Central PA history with national title

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There has never been a girls or boys soccer team from the Midstate to win the state, region and national title in the same season, until now. Penn FC 17U Lightning won the national title on Sunday, making Central Pennsylvania history.

The girls beat Utah Celtic in the United States Youth Soccer National Championship to complete the triple-title feat that previously eluded any soccer team from the area.

“It’s a very difficult thing to do,” said Penn FC Coach Bill Becher. “I don’t know that we could have thought this would happen in our wildest dreams. We set goals, and we strived for it, but to actually do it was pretty amazing.”

But it didn’t come easy. In the regional final, the girls trailed 2-0 with less than five minutes to play. Three straight goals turned the tide, and the girls ran into the national tournament with momentum.

That’s when the expectation was set: the Lightning could win a national title.

“Right after regionals,” said Lightning defender Hannah Costa on when she knew a championship was possible. “Playing HMS in the finals, [it was] a tough game, but we came back at the end. With five minutes left, we scored three goals. That’s when I said ‘we got this.'”

In Bradenton, Florida, the girls posted a 2-0-1 record in pool play, on their way to outscoring opponents 4-1 in the semifinals and championship game.

“We just all knew it came down to who wanted it more and who was going to do everything possible to win.”

Jaelynn small, lightning defender

In the national title game, Kristen Economopoulos gave the Lightning an early lead just five minutes into the game 1-0. With time winding down in the second half, Alex Murphy tracked down a perfect ball in the corner and scored to give the Lightning some insurance.

“Our willingness to play as a team, and our mentality [were the difference],” said Lightning’s Jaelynn Small, a West York junior. “There are other factors, like the refs, the heat, but we just all knew it came down to who wanted it more and who was going to do everything possible to win.”

The Lightning came into the tournament as the nation’s top ranked team. The roster features girls from high schools across the Midstate including Lower Dauphin, Central Dauphin, West York, Harrisburg Christian, Solanco and many more.

“We’re always there for each other no matter what,” Kristen Economopoulos said of the team chemistry. “On the field, we’re always constantly [providing] encouragement, support; off the field, we hang out, we do so many things. We just all love each other… In the end, we won a national championship, what more can you say?”

The Penn FC 17U Girls Lightning are the 2021 USYS National Champions.

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