Wednesday afternoon, Bethlehem Steel FC’s newest signees joined a conference call with myself and fellow media members as a way for us to introduce ourselves and them to say hello as well. Steel FC announced the signings of forward Brandon Allen, midfielder Omar Holness, and defender Brandon Aubrey in consecutive days the week of 1/8/18. Goal-scoring Forward Allen suited up last for the New York Red Bulls (NY Red Bulls II -USL) organization, Central midfielder Holness recently played for the Real Salt Lake (Real Monarchs-USL) organization, and Center back Aubrey seeks a new chance – last played with Toronto FC’s USL affiliate Toronto FC II.
The 23-year Jamaican was first to join the conference call. First question lobbed Holness’ way was straight to the point. Why Steel FC? Holness expressed the interest in him from the club was something that intrigued him.
“It’s a really good opportunity for me to branch out,” said Holness.
His Jamaican roots were discussed at length considering fellow Jamaicans GK Andre Blake and F Cory Burke are with the first team Philadelphia Union. “I do know Cory from the national team and I’m very familiar with him,” explained Holness.
The Philadelphia Union organization has clearly shown that Jamaican players are well received. “This organization is familiar with our culture – the way we play and carry ourselves,” said Holness. “I spoke to Andre [Blake] about my intentions of moving here and he was very adamant that this organization is very keen on developing young players and giving them that chance to breakthrough,” Holness said.
Holness also addressed his recovery from an ACL tear last July. “I spoke with all of the guys on the training staff. We’re all on the same page about where they want to see me,” said Holness. The transition to the new club has been smooth for Omar. “Everything is going well… the injury right now is moving very fast but at the same time it’s all about managing expectations,” stated Holness. All too often players rush back from injury only to do more harm than good.
Injuries tend to be equally draining mentally as they can be physically. Keeping the proper mindset while recovering from major setbacks is key. “I do believe it has been more so mentally challenging,” Holness said when asked about staying in the proper frame of mind despite being sidelined. “I have people around me that are really trying to push me. I think that’s important,” said Holness.
A young player who played college soccer before moving onto the professional ranks like Holness knows the value of USL experience. When asked to speak about the opportunity a professional league like the USL provides college players Holness noted the structure as a key element. “I do believe for players coming out of college the USL is the best step. The USL is that perfect stepping stone into that first team,” said Holness. USL play with Bethlehem Steel FC can be not only just a stepping stone for Holness but a springboard into first team discussions.
Next on the call was Center back and former Notre Dame Irishman Brandon Aubrey. The 22-year spent 2016 with Toronto FC’s USL affiliate Toronto FC II. While not grasping the opportunity to play with the first team in Toronto, Aubrey is ready for a second go around with Bethlehem Steel FC and the Philadelphia organization.
“It seemed like the team most interested in having me. I think it’s important for me to play for a team with a first team affiliate,” stated Aubrey when asked why he signed with Steel FC.
During Aubrey’s freshman year at Notre Dame, his team won the first National Championship in school history at the PPL Park (now Talen Energy Stadium). Aubrey played striker that year and appeared for 10 minutes. “I was kind of the player to give a spell for the older players. It was a lot of fun. Great experience. One I’m glad to have under my belt,” said Aubrey of the event.
Playing striker has helped Aubrey gain an edge defensively as a Center back. “My whole youth I played in attacking roles. It’s really help me frame my mind with what the strikers are going to do, what their tendencies are with the little faints – when they push into you and then check off for the ball,” explained Aubrey. “They are really thinking about what you’re doing. So it’s sort of like 3D Chess,” said Aubrey.
He is back in familiar territory and ready for another chance to excel. “For myself I want to be ready to contribute at all times for Steel FC,” Aubrey said of his goals for 2018. “And just really runaway with this chance. I want to put my best foot forward. Always be ready,” said Aubrey.
As far as team goals are concerned Aubrey pulled no punches and stated playoffs or bust for him. He hopes his new refreshed mindset will help him in Bethlehem. “Last year with Toronto was a pretty big step for me. One that I might not have been entirely ready for. It took me a while to settle into that level of play. And by the time I had settled into that level, it had already past me by on the first team level,” said Aubrey. But 2018 will mainly be similar in terms of what Aubrey must do: be ready at all times and execute when called upon.
Forward Brandon Allen joined the call last to meet the media. Allen earned 2016 USL Rookie of the Year after scoring 15 goals with New York Red Bulls II. He was named to the USL All-League First team in 2016 too. At 24-years old, Allen has a grand opportunity to take over as the main goal getter for Steel FC in 2018.
“I am very excited to play here… Coming here, there’s a real future for me moving forward,” Allen opened when asked about the opportunity to play for the Philadelphia Union organization. “I was weighing out my options, but I think mainly [why Allen signed with Steel FC] there really is a future for me here,” said Allen. “At my previous club [NYRB] I felt like there was a future but there really wasn’t as far as who was ahead of me… I had Bradley-Wright Phillips in front of me,” said Allen when speaking about the move.
After 2018 in USL with Steel FC, Allen could easily have a shot to take over as a forward in future first team discussions at just 24 years young.
Allen played with Union defenders Keegan Rosenberry and Josh Yaro at Georgetown University and alongside Union midfielder Adam Najem at NYRB academy. “I’ve been spending time with them this week already actually… and we have already started training,” said Allen.
When asked about the transition period a player goes through coming to a new club and having to learn the system Allen stated everybody is different. “Everybody is a bit different, but I would say for me I pick up things pretty fast… maybe within a week, week and a half,” explained Allen.
Allen has earned a reputation as a goal scorer throughout USL up to this point. However, some skills of Allen’s get overlooked. “I think I’m pretty good at hold up play, in terms of being a striker and holding the ball up for the team,” said Allen.
Looking ahead, Allen’s goals are to complete a similar campaign like his previous years in USL so far. “I don’t have any specifics in terms of goal stats. I just want to have a similar year and keep doing what I’ve been doing and I’ll get noticed,” concluded Allen.
Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports