Brandon Allen provides immediate offensive jolt for Steel FC Sunday; earns United Soccer League Team of the Week honors as a result

Steel FC’s newest striker receives spot in United Soccer League’s first edition of Team of the Week following Allen’s stellar debut.
teel FC supporters flocked to Goodman Stadium Sunday afternoon to witness their team begin the 2018 USL season.

After becoming the first player in the club’s short history to net a brace in his debut, Bethlehem Steel FC forward Brandon Allen was voted as one of the league’s best players during Week 1.

Allen poured it on offensively during the final half hour of Steel FC’s lopsided 4-1 home opener victory against a Richmond Kickers team that seemed stuck in preseason mode Sunday afternoon at Goodman Stadium.

Allen’s first goal occurred in the 64th minute. Richmond sensed a need to press in hopes of gaining the all-important equalizing goal after scoring their only goal of the match in the 57th minute but could not keep possession.

A shot by Derrick Jones forced Richmond keeper Travis Worra to only parry the attempt causing the ball to land neatly at Allen’s feet along the edge of the 18-yard box. He took a few dribbles to his left creating just enough separation to rifle home a goal.

Leigh Cowlishaw’s Richmond team suffered a final death-blow of sorts when Allen slotted home his second goal of the match during the 89th minute. Rookie center midfielder Mike Catalano cleverly sidestepped his man and fed Allen with a perfect through ball into the box. Allen outplayed Worra, collecting his own rebound attempt, and sliding the ball past an outstretched Worra from a near impossible angle.
New forward Brandon Allen (#40) takes a few dribbles during Sunday’s 4-1 victory over Richmond Kickers. Allen would later score twice in the match’s final 30 minutes.

One could not ask for a better individual performance from the man labeled Steel FC’s sole goal scorer.

With the two-goal outing, Allen further etched his name into Steel FC’s record books. Not only did he become the first player in club history to score twice in his debut, Allen’s name is now listed in somewhat elite company as he is only the fourth Steel FC player to log a two-goal performance.

The three others to record a brace for Steel FC? Seku Conneh (4/9/17 against FC Cincinnati), Cory Burke x2 (8/26/17 AND 9/24/17 both against Pittsburgh Riverhounds), and Santi Moar (10/6/17 against Toronto FC II). Fun fact about Moar’s brace: Moar scored both goals in a quick three-minute span 19′ and 22′ (a club record).

Burke and Conneh’s shoes to be filled fully

The 2017 Steel FC roster relied heavily on the dynamic duo of Cory Burke and Seku Conneh to produce chances and goals for a middle of the road team.  Goal-scoring wise, Steel FC finished the regular season with 46 total goals landing them well behind Eastern Conference foes New York Red Bulls II (60) and defending USL Cup Champion Louisville City FC (58).

Of the 46 total goals scored by Steel FC in 2017, 23 of them were a by-product of Burke or Conneh’s play. Burke tallied nine goals while Conneh scored one more on the year making an even 10 goals on the year from the young Liberian forward. In addition to the 19 goals between the two former Steel FC players, they contributed two assists each – further cementing their impact of Steel FC’s offense in 2017. Half of the team’s offensive production rested on Burke and Conneh last year.

But this year, the responsibility of racking up the goals falls on Allen. And Sunday, he proved he is more than willing to take the reigns of head coach Brendan Burke’s offense in 2018 in hopes of another playoff appearance at season’s end.

Following his brace, Allen spoke with the media about the importance of beginning his 2018 season on a positive note. “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 [Sunday] and continue to fight for goals the rest of the season,” Allen said.

The sense of relief remained apparent during Allen’s post-match interview. “Really happy and really good to get the first three points at home and we’re looking forward to next weekend,” said Allen. “We just need to review the tape and hopefully next weekend we can do the same thing,” said Allen.

Coach Burke reiterated the positives Allen brings to his club following the victory Sunday. He also revealed the club actively set their sights on a player like Allen during the off-season.

When asked about his new forwards two goal performance, coach Burke stated “I’m really happy for him. That’s what he [Allen] does [score goals],” said Burke. “I’m even happier with the way he pressed and the energy that he brought to the game,” continued Burke. “He [Allen] definitely was identified in the off-season as a guy who could replace those 20 goals we lost between Cory [Burke] and Seku [Conneh] and I think he showed you today that he can bring even more than that,” Burke said.

Play-makers delight

Despite the loss of two goal scorers, coach Burke’s Steel FC team did not lose any of their main play-makers from last year. Central attacking midfielder Adam Najem as well as Moar, the speedy winger from Spain, have returned for Steel FC and with them comes opportunity for chances on goal. Last season Moar and Najem combined for 14 total assists. In total, Steel FC registered just 27 assists meaning the duo play vital roles in the attack. Allen as a goal seeking forward is the perfect target man for the crafty Najem to find behind opponent’s back lines. Moar’s speed down the wings coupled with his skillful ability to cut inside and take his man on 1v1 should help create space for Allen up top.

Scoring chances should come early and often for coach Burke’s Steel FC this year. As long as Allen can stay in form, more W’s than last year are expected.
Brandon Allen earned USL Team of the Week honors. Allen is the eighth Steel FC player to be named to a USL Team of the Week.

Allen just the eighth Steel FC player to earn USL Team of the Week honors

One may think the frequent appearance of Philadelphia Union first team loanees in Steel FC’s matchday 18 would result in numerous stellar performances. Not quite. Throughout the club’s two-year history, a Steel FC player landed on the USL Team of the Week just eight times.

Who was the first?

Derrick Jones of course back in July of 2016. Followed by Conneh (April 2017), Hugh Roberts (May 2017), Jake McGuire (May 2017), Najem (June 2017), Chris Nanco (August 2017), and Burke (September 2017).

Steel FC by the numbers:

Considering the whopping 4 goals rocketed home by Steel FC in their home opener last Sunday, I looked back over the past two seasons to see how coach Burke’s squad fares when scoring more than two goals each match.

Since the first match of 2016, Steel FC have scored two or more goals in 27 out of 63 regular season USL matches. In 2016, they hit two goals home 11 different times with a 4-3-4 record when scoring twice. In 2017, Steel FC notched two or more goals in 15 total matches throughout the regular season with a 9-4-2 record. And so far in 2018, Steel FC are 1-0-0 when scoring two or more goals.

But perhaps the most telling statistic when it comes to goals scored for Steel FC is their record when they score three goals or more in a match. After Sunday’s victory, the club improves to 6-0-0 when they put three goals by an opponent’s keeper. Allen’s ability to score in bunches at consistent rates should help Steel FC secure more W’s than years past.
Murray H. Goodman Stadium – the current home of Bethlehem Steel FC on the campus of Lehigh University.

However, their home form will ultimately determine their fate. Brendan Burke certainly cannot be pleased to be just .500 at home sporting a 11-11-10 record all-time at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium. Last season saw Steel FC earn a winning record at home but just by one game. Their record away from home resulted in a 6-7-3 record.

The real key for Steel FC in 2018 will be their ability to close out close games. In 2017, they conceded and embarrassingly high 10 goals during the final 25 minutes of their matches (76′-90′). A young center back grouping, comprised of a professional determined to grab his second chance in run with in Brandon Aubrey and a likely first team counterpart will be under immense pressure to remain tidy in front of goal.

Steel FC travel south Friday morning for Tampa Bay in what will be their first road match of 2018. Tampa Bay Rowdies have been coined an early favorite to possibly take over as the Eastern Conference’s team to beat. The young center backs along Burke’s back line will face elite speed against an effective Tampa Bay offense. Kick is set for 7:30 PM Saturday night (3/24).

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