Bethlehem Steel FC battled for victories in three of four May matches in search of a more consistent winning form after struggling to find W’s over the first two months of the season. Recently, Steel FC earned six points in just four days. They now prep for a trip north of the border to Ottawa Fury FC this Friday.
Sluggish, Slow, Unfortunate Start
Steel FC tallied just seven goals prior to their May 6th matchup against Richmond Kickers. Since opening weekend, March 18th against that same Richmond Kickers club, Bethlehem won just one match. They were blanked twice in consecutive matches at Tampa Bay Rowdies (2-0, 3/24) and home against Nashville SC (0-1, 3/31) to end the month of March.
April left head coach Brendan Burke continually reiterating phrases like “disappointed not to come away with all three points tonight,” following 1-1 home draws to Charleston Battery (4/8) and FC Cincinnati (4/15). A trip to one of Eastern Conference’s elite clubs in Louisville City FC resulted in a 3-1 loss to finalize a disappointing second month of the 2018 campaign.
May: Fresh, Inspired Soccer
What’s the saying? Something about showers and flowers? Or is it, April’s lack luster soccer brings May flowers?
More like, brings many goals. And W’s. And points in the standings.
By the end of April, USLsoccer.com’s Week 7 Power Rankings left Steel FC off the list of Top 16, in fact, they weren’t even near the conversation. Fast forward to present day, Steel FC sit comfortably all alone at 11th in Week 10’s Power Rankings. Back-to-back wins against playoff caliber opponents solidified Steel FC onto the national map for the first time this year.
May’s first contest provided Steel FC another attempt to bloody a weak defensive side in Richmond Kickers. Two matches against Richmond, both at Goodman Stadium, granted Steel FC six points on a combined seven goals. Safe to say, Bethlehem figured Richmond’s plans out early and didn’t forget.
Slight Hiccup in Charleston
Six days later, Steel FC traveled to Charleston and fell 2-1 at the hands of a sharp Battery side. An early yellow card saddled the aggressive tempo which Bethlehem intended to implement despite being away from home. Their defensive nature failed to hold through until the first half’s final whistle and they entered halftime down 1-0.
Eight minutes after the kick to begin the second half, another Battery goal put Steel FC on their backs. A 65th minute goal from Union midfielder Derrick Jones proved too little. A barrage of offensive substitutes took to the pitch late in the second half for Burke’s club but all for not as they fell 2-1.
Jam Packed May Schedule
Very rarely in sports would one think playing four matches (or games) in less than two weeks’ time would be beneficial. Less frequent would you find anyone pleased to see three matches in seven days’ time. Yet even less wanted, two matches over four days.
However, it seems feasible to think such a quick turnaround after a difficult 2-1 loss was just what Burke and his young club needed to remain focused on their target goal of earning more three-point results. Less time to rest may be a nuisance for some clubs, but Steel FC is fortunate to select from a variety of match fit professional players in times when energy may be sapped.
Six Points in Four Days
With lack of rest not really an issue, Burke and his staff maintained a hungry motivation for results approaching last Wednesday’s win against rival New York Red Bulls II. The ball zipped around the grass with increased enthusiasm on their way to a statement victory. A 3-0 W proved to be a momentous midweek result as Steel FC prepped for a trip west to a new USL team, Indy Eleven.
Playing at Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, Steel FC stole the show. A 2-1 victory in road whites stunned Indy Eleven faithful. Santi Moar’s 60th minute goal and emphatic celebration placed Steel FC ahead briefly. A 70th minute goal from Indy tied up the match, causing a ripple of doubt through Bethlehem supporters’ minds.
In the 74th, Zambian left back Prosper Chiluya fired an absolute cannon into the back of the net from distance. Chiluya’s goal was the first of his professional career and what a memorable one it was. Stout defending in the match’s final 20 minutes granted Steel FC another three points, totaling six in just four days’ time.
Confidence is Infectious, Highly Effective
Perhaps Burke’s squad grew tired of losing out at chances for three points. Maybe team chemistry has been bolstered by a steady rotation of players, even though the lineup never stays the same – a core group of matchday players has blossomed. With fewer surprises throughout each week’s starting XI, particularly along the back line, Bethlehem have grown confident in all aspects on the pitch.
In soccer, and most things in life, confidence is key. A simple mindset can help a player and team transcend inner turmoil and outside adversity. A sense of ruthlessness has taken shape inside Steel FC’s locker room. A glimpse, perhaps, of what fans and the rest of USL can see as the season progresses: one of the East’s best clubs.
Steel FC now sits tied for 5th in the Eastern Conference along with the likes of Charlotte Independence, Indy Eleven, and New York Red Bulls II. They all have 14 points so far. At 4-4-2, Steel FC continue to battle in hopes of reconciling a few too many early season loses. With four loses so far, only two other teams in the East have more losses: Tampa Bay with five and Toronto with a comical eight losses.
Friday night’s matchup at Ottawa Fury FC heavily favors Steel FC as the victor. Burke and his staff surely want to see the last match of May end in good spirits. It seems as if Steel FC are in a run of fantastic form which should continue into the hot summer months – just in time for the return of midfield maestro James Chambers to the lineup. Hopefully… someday.
Be sure to come back to Philly Sports Network for more Philadelphia Union, Steel FC, and other soccer content!
Follow our writers on Twitter:
Peace out Union fans!