Bethlehem Steel FC announced yesterday, January 9th, 23-year old Jamaican international and former MLS midfielder Omar Holness. The former 2016 Generation Adidas player and number five pick in 2016 MLS SuperDraft agreed to a new deal with Steel FC following Real Salt Lake’s decision to decline Holness’ contract option for the 2018 season. Holness was groomed to be long-time Real Salt Lake veteran M Kyle Beckerman as a holding midfielder despite his abilities and willingness to move forward with the attack. Expect a box-to-box midfielder like Holness to make an immediate impact down the road for Steel FC in 2018.
Steel FC Head Coach Brendan Burke is more than willing to make the young Jamaican feel at home in Bethlehem and a part of the Philadelphia Union system. “We were really excited to approach Omar given his experience in the MLS,” explained Burke. “We think that he has what it takes to translate to MLS and we want to provide him the platform to make that jump here at Steel FC,” said Burke.
Who is Omar Holness?
Perhaps you first heard of Holness yesterday or today. Maybe you have picked up on chatter surrounding Holness signing with Bethlehem. And you may have first encountered Holness in late March of 2016 when the midfielder suffered a seizure in the 33rd minute in a USL match playing on loan for the Real Monarchs against St. Louis FC. A day later Holness made a full recovery. A ruptured ACL which required surgery sidelined Holness once more in July of 2015 and was tagged with eight to 12 months of recovery. As of today Holness will be in rest mode for three to four additional months.
Bethlehem are not worried about Holness’ history with unfortunate injuries. “We knew he’s dealt with a long-term injury but he is at a good place to be joining us in preseason on the road to recovery… All signs point to a tempered start,” said Burke.
Omar’s healthy time was spent producing for both MLS side Real Salt Lake and their USL affiliate Real Monarchs the past two seasons. Holness registered 18 appearances and six starts for Real Salt Lake in 2016 and 2017. He also logged 600+ minutes over nine appearances with Real Monarchs. Holness’ MLS experience will prove crucial for Bethlehem Steel FC and the frequent use of Phialdelphia Union Academy players who suit up as young as 16-years old.
In college, Holness played for the University of North Carolina (UNC) for three seasons. Each of those three years, UNC earned a spot in the NCAA tournament. Holness earned 55 starts throughout his career. A one time All-ACC first team honors sophomore year, Holness made good use of his three years in Chapel Hill.
During his junior year off-season, Hollness played with the Portland Timbers U23 team in the Premier Development League (PDL). Steel FC D Matthew Mahoney also played in the PDL for Jersey Express during the off-seasons. Throughout his 550+ minutes logged in PDL, Holness scored once and gained valuable experience ahead of his final year at UNC.
Also of importance is Omar Holness’ international experience with the Reggae Boyz of Jamaica. His first international cap/appearance was in 2014 against Canada of the North. In 2015, Jamaica made a fantastic run during the Gold Cup and Holness was a member of that roster. Although Holness did not make an appearance throughout the Gold Cup competition, he and his team won their way to the final but came up short. Again, despite a lot of game experience – in this case none – Holness was able to see in person how professionals handle themselves on the international level.
Holness and his professional experience both with Jamaica and in the MLS with Real Salt Lake will hopefully help him through his recovery and ready to make an impact with Bethlehem in 2018.
Philadelphia continues to add players loaded with potential
With Omar Holness joining the Philadelphia Union organization, the Union now have four of the top six 2016 MLS SuperDraft picks. Holness was also named to the 2016 Generation Adidas (GA) class. The 2016 GA class totals seven players. Philadelphia owns three of them: D Josh Yaro (contract still under GA), M/F Fabian Herbers (no longer in GA status), Omar Holness (no longer in GA status). Herbers renegotiated his contract with Philadelphia December 21st, accepting a lower salary subsequently freeing up more space in the Union’s budget.
Philadelphia made out like bandits when the 2016 MLS SuperDraft was all said and done. The top two picks for the Union were acquired via trades with three different team. The number two pick was acquired via Colorado Rapids – resulting in the number two selection of Josh Yaro. The number three pick came via Chicago Fire FC – allowing Philly to snag Keegan Rosenberry. You may remember Rosenberry was named to the 2016 MLS All-Star team before falling silent in 2017. The sixth pick came about after a swag with Houston Dynamo in early December of 2015. Holness as the fifth pick gives the Union another roster spot filled with a young player with tremendous upside.
The second and third pick of the 2016 SuperDraft were results of trade made on Draft day. Shout out Sam Hinkie.
The 2017 MLS SuperDraft concluded with yet again an impactful and skill-fulled set of youngsters. Philadelphia’s Front Office found a better strategy with their later round draft picks which resulted in a set of jackpot draft picks throughout the third and fourth rounds. Their first pick came in the second round when they selected M/F Marcus Epps with the third pick (acquired in a trade with Minnesota United). Englishman D Aaron Jones with the 11th pick in that round. F Chris Nanco and F Santi Moar of Bethlehem Steel FC and produced excellent rookie campaigns. 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year finalist D Jack Elliot was the product of the fourth round when Philadelphia utilized their 11th pick that round to grab the impressive center back.
Since the beginning of the week the Philadelphia Union organization have signed two young impact players to play with for Bethlehem Steel FC, their USL affiliate. 2018 should be an eventful year for Bethlehem. Holness may not be involved in the early parts of the year, but his presence and fresh legs will prove valuable in the latter parts.
Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports