USL Matchday 1 Recap: Bethlehem Steel FC open 2018 USL campaign with a home opener win against Richmond Kickers 4-1

Bethlehem Steel FC dominated Richmond Kickers all afternoon Sunday on their way to thrilling 4-1 victory at Goodman Stadium in front of over 3,250 fans. Three Steel FC players netted goals while new forward Brandon Allen scored a brace making him the only Steel FC player to score two goals in their debut. The home opener win becomes the first in the club’s short three-year history. Have a look back at the action with Philly Sports Network’s USL Matchday 1 Recap!

Union players in the Steel FC 11

Head coach Brendan Burke’s Steel FC squad comprised of seven Philadelphia Union players on loan, three Union Academy players, and eight Steel FC contracted players.

Goalkeeper John McCarthy, left back Matt Real, center back Mark McKenzie, and midfielders Derrick Jones, Eric Ayuk, Adam Najem, and Marcus Epps all made the starting XI for Bethlehem. McCarthy was a bit of a surprise given his appearance in the Union’s matchday 18 Saturday afternoon.

1st Half

The first 45 saw Bethlehem dominating the game. Throughout the first half, Steel FC controlled upwards of 65% total possession. Richmond remained content to sit back hoping to create turnovers which in turn could help propel their attack. However, each turnover they forced was quickly given right back to Steel FC leaving Leigh Cowlishaw’s Kickers with little time on the ball.

Bethlehem capitalized on their ball possession early in the match when Eric Ayuk scored the first goal of the 2018 season for Steel FC in the 24th minute. Epps utilized his speed and pressing ability to force a turnover. After a few passes to set up an attacking scenario the ball was sent out wide along the right flank to right back Matthew Mahoney. Mahoney whipped a dangerous ball into the box which Richmond’s keeper Travis Worra struggled to corral. The ball tipped off Worra’s fingers and fell to a waiting Ayuk who buried the ball into the back of the net. Ayuk celebrated his return to the Philadelphia Union organization after a loan spell in Sweden with a goal in his first professional appearance in 2018 for Steel FC.

Eric Ayuk with a new blonde streak in his hair was perhaps the most exciting player on the pitch for Steel FC yesterday. His speed and relentless effort went unmatched.

Union loanees standout

Coach Burke was thrilled to see Ayuk open up the floodgates so to speak for his team. Ayuk’s early goal set the tone for the rest of the match which resulted in four total goals for Burke’s Steel FC team. Burke noticed Ayuk’s uncanny ability to never cease his efforts on the pitch. “He’s relentless. That’s one of the words we put on the board before we went out and he [Ayuk] embodies it,” said Burke of the speedy winger. “He’s a tireless worker who does whatever he needs to do to put the team in good positions and I’m glad he was rewarded with a goal,” Burke said post-match.

Ayuk celebrated his goal with a back-flip celebration to the delight of the crowd. After the match, Ayuk expressed a sense of accomplishment in his efforts. “I’m happy the effort led to my first goal this season,” said Ayuk. The effort he refers to is the high press system Steel FC thrive on. “Coach [Burke] said before the game that every five minutes we had to press harder and higher,” Ayuk said of his pre-match instructions. “We all stayed together and listened,” said Ayuk.

Just sixteen minutes after Ayuk’s goal, Bethlehem hit home another after Derrick Jones executed a beautifully skilled run through Richmond’s’ backline. Jones beat four Kickers’ defenders and slotted the ball neatly into the back corner of the net in the 40th minute. Epps had the assist.

2nd Half

Halftime came and went and Cowlishaw’s Kickers found themselves way too far behind the 8-ball but still made a few adjustments in the second half that led to a goal.

Richmond tallied their only goal of the match in the 57th minute when veteran captain Brian Shriver blasted a right footed shot passed a diving McCarthy. Shriver’s shot came from far outside the box which may have caught Steel FC defenders by surprise given the distance of Shriver’s attempt.

Brandon Allen shines

The final 30 minutes of the match went Steel FC’s way. Richmond sensed they could snag an equalizing goal but just seven minutes after scoring, the Kickers failed to remain composed. They turned the ball over once more which in turn prompted a counter attack from Steel FC. Brandon Allen collected the ball along the edge of the 18-yard box following a shot attempt from Jones which Worra failed to handle neatly. Allen shimmied to his left and fired home his first goal as a member of Steel FC in the 64th minute.

Allen’s scoring boots prevailed once more in the match’s final minutes.Allen collected a nifty through ball slotted through by rookie midfielder Mike Catalano. Catalano did well to side-step his man before finding Allen for his chance. With zero angle on frame, Allen somehow found a way to slide the ball past Worra and into the net for a brace on the afternoon. Allen became the first player in Steel FC history to net a brace on his debut.

Post game reactions

“It’s really good to start the season the way I did today,” said Allen. “Obviously the games get tougher as the season goes along but I’ll take it as it is today and continue to fight for goals the rest of the season,” Allen said.

However, Cowlishaw echoed a different sentiment after witnessing his group struggle for 90 minutes. “Clearly, I think, there was a big gulf in quality today from the two teams,” said Cowlishaw. “Bethlehem was top class, from one through 11 they were excellent on the ball,” Cowlishaw said.

Allen’s goal in the 64th minute allowed Burke to throw in his substitutes. Santi Moar and Mike Catalano entered in the match’s final 30 minutes and did well to continue pressuring Richmond. But perhaps most importantly, Issa Rayyan entered the match in the 83rd minute earning some quality professional experience as an Academy player.

Rayyan is a verbal commit to Duke but there is no telling whether that commitment will remain in place at season’s end. Steel FC coach Burke lamented the importance of providing Union Academy players time in USL matches.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get more time on the field for Brenden [Aaronson] and Issa [Rayyan] in particular. I don’t really want to be in a situation as a club where we have those guys on our bench and they aren’t involved in the game,” said Burke. “Those two have done really well through preseason along with a few others,” said Burke. “You’re definitely going to see more of those guys,” Burke said.

Steel FC would like to continue the impressive home form throughout the remainder of the season. In their first two seasons, their home form lacked quality on numerous occasions. The win Sunday should hopefully set the tone. Burke mentioned he would like his home matches to be a brutal test for visiting teams. Steel FC continue their season next weekend as they travel south to take on the Tampa Bay Rowdies. By all accounts, Tampa Bay is much more skilled offensively which should provide an early test for a young Steel FC defense.

Highlights

MATCH STATS 

Shots: 18-7 (Bethlehem)

Shots On Goal: 6-2 (Bethlehem)

Corners: 2-1 (Bethlehem)

Saves: 2-1 (Richmond)

SCORING SUMMARY

BST – 24’ Eric Ayuk

BST –40’ Derrick Jones (Marcus Epps)
RIC – 57’ Oscar Umar (Brian Shriver)
BST –64’ Brandon Allen
BST –89’ Brandon Allen (Mike Catalano)

DISCIPLINE SUMMARY

NONE

BETHLEHEM STEEL FC STARTING XI

John McCarthy; Matt Real, Mark McKenzie, Brandon Aubrey, Matthew Mahoney; James Chambers, Derrick Jones (Mike Catalano 87’); Eric Ayuk (Santi Moar 69’), Adam Najem, Marcus Epps (Issa Rayyan 83’); Brandon Allen.

Unused substitutions: Tomas Romero, Prosper Chiluya, AJ Paterson, Brenden Aaronson.

RICHMOND KICKERS STARTING XI

Travis Worra; Alex Lee, Meikel Williams, Conor Shanosky, Braeden Troyer; Scott Thomsen, Yudai Imura (Giuseppe Gentile 61’), Oscar Umar, Raul Gonzalez (Bruno Miranda 61’); Brian Shriver (Koby Osei-Wusu 78’), Heviel Cordoves.

Unused substitutes: Trevor Spanenberg, Yomby William, Finnlay Wyatt, Fred Owusu Sekyere

MATCH REFEREES
Marcos Deoliveira (Head Official), Craig Lowry (Assistant), Gjovalin Bori (Assistant), Joshua Encarnacion (Fourth Official).

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