Bethlehem Steel FC earned a clean sheet Saturday night against USL’s reigning champion Louisville City FC. They failed to score a goal and once more the post-match conversations involved talks of missed chances. Philadelphia Union also showed an inability to convert their chances throughout their most recent home 2-0 loss to MLS’ reigning champion Toronto FC. Missed chances have haunted both clubs for months now.
Following Friday night’s loss at Talen Energy Stadium, Philadelphia Union head coach mentioned the game of soccer can be “cruel.”
The ball can bounce in unforeseen directions. A player can lose his footing and slip at a dangerous time. Other times, a shot hits the crossbar instead of the back of the net.
But at what point does one start to question whether a team’s inability to finish chances is something more than just ‘bad luck?’ Maybe if the lack of finishing occurred on the road a bit more often than it does at home, this article wouldn’t be needed.
So far at home, both Philadelphia and Bethlehem have each failed to walk away with three points at home on four separate occasions. Steel FC have won just three of their first seven home games. Philadelphia earned three points in just four of their first eight at home.
Three Steel FC home matches that did not result in a win could theoretically be removed due to hosting superior opponents and an untimely ejection. Steel FC’s first home match resulted in a 1-0 loss to Nashville SC thanks to a fifth minute red card to Brandon Aubrey. The other two non-win results occurred at the hands of USL Eastern Conference elites in FC Cincinnati (April 15th, 1-1 D) and Louisville City SC (June 9th, 0-0 D).
For the sake of argument, however, those two matches – Cincinnati and Louisville – should have been Steel FC victories. If you coupled those two results with their early April home draw against Charleston Battery, you’d notice Steel FC could be very high up in the table if that ball didn’t bounce so ‘unluckily.’
Post-match interviews with Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke have become a bit repetitive. Same with Philadelphia’s Jim Curtin. Both coaches are quick to praise the positives, like compact defending and the creation of chances. Yet, both also take a more generous approach when discussing the lack of finishing.
“Soccer can be a cruel game at times… we put a very attack-minded team out there… we just weren’t clinical enough,” said Curtin post-match.
That’s about as harsh as he would get when discussing his team’s lack of finishing.
Brendan Burke, Steel FC head coach, shared some similar thoughts regarding his team’s consistent lack of finishing. However, it is important to note that one should not judge Steel FC with the same lens as they do the Philadelphia Union – the sheer talent level of the rosters is enough to skew that frame.
“Really proud of my team… you have to be diligent in defending and apply the tactics that you’ve worked on all week,” said Burke following the clean sheet 0-0 draw Saturday.
Steel FC put on a defensive clinic of sorts, which allows their fans the ability to walk away content and satisfied as opposed to distraught and confused – what Union fans are feeling after their team’s 2-0 loss.
As for his team’s missed chances, Burke stated “I like guys that create those number and quality of chances. Some days they’re going to fly in and some days they won’t. Those are great chances and on a different day those are goals.”
A stark difference between the performances from Steel FC and the Union against reigning league champions, was not the lack of finishing but rather, the creation of chances.
For Philadelphia fans, striker CJ Sapong continuously navigated to spots in Toronto’s box that were less than advantageous. Both of Steel FC’s attacking options, Santi Moar and Chris Nanco, repeatedly created space and found themselves in threatening positions.
The taste in one’s mouth – a phrase Curtin expressed prior to Friday’s matchup – is a bit sweeter when you witness a team’s attacking options creating chances in a variety of ways as opposed to several missed crosses into the box. Philadelphia sent a bunch of crosses, 17 to be exact, into Toronto’s box. They connected on just 41% of them.
So maybe Philadelphia’s attacking woes have more to do with the way in which attacking options present themselves in bad spots on the pitch. In other words, perhaps Curtin’s attacking option, Sapong, is having trouble navigating the final third, as opposed to being a victim of the cruelty and bad luck soccer can produce.
Maybe, even, Steel FC captain James Chambers had the perfect words for strikers who can’t seem to find the back of the net. He offered some honesty, rather brutal at times, following his team’s match Saturday.
“To be brutally honest with you, we just need to finish our chances. It’s been like that for a lot of the season. We’ve had some really good play moving out from the back and some good attacking play. We just need to finish chances. It’s the hardest thing to do in games, to score goals,” said Chambers.
Chambers continued, his decades long career’s experience clearly apparent in his words. “That’s the difference between the higher levels and this level. That’s why strikers get paid the most money because they put the ball in the net. That’s something we really need to do a little bit more,” said Chambers.
Nanco, who made his first start at striker for Steel FC Saturday, shared one final thought post-match. “I want that one back. I definitely want that one back,” Nanco said of his missed chance.
But for now, attackers at both the MLS and USL level continue to haunt both Steel FC and the Union in 2018.
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports