Steel FC are on the road once more, this time down south at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park against USL-newcomer North Carolina FC. Bethlehem and North Carolina are separated by just three points in the standings. Steel FC sits at 11th with 14 points and North Carolina ranks 12th with 11 points.
A look back at the month of May
The month of May provided Steel FC with nine goals, an offensive explosion so to speak. A 3-1 home win vs Richmond kickers, kicked off the month but was followed with a lackluster 2-1 road loss to Charleston just a week later. A few days later, Steel FC hosted Red Bulls II for a midweek showdown, Wednesday the 16th. A whopping 3-0 victory was the result.
Head coach Brendan Burke was all smiles post-match and the positivity infected his bunch once more the following Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium against Indy Eleven. Steel FC won that match against Indy, granting a two-match winning streak.
Heading into their last match of May, Steel FC needed a W to cap off a highly productive month despite the loss at Charleston. Unfortunately, Steel FC dropped the contest 1-0 at Ottawa Fury FC on the 25th. Ottawa netted a goal in the match’s first minute. That Ottawa goal proved too difficult to overcome.
So now what?
James Chambers returns
A stretch of good soccer was spoiled by a silly first minute goal on the road. But, captain midfielder James Chambers has returned from injury. In fact, Chambers is slated to suit up and return to Steel FC’s lineup tonight.
Which is huge. Especially for a team with constant lineup changes in search of consistency.
Chambers’ presence throughout the middle of the field is game-changing. And that’s not to take anything away from the hearty midfielders that have slotted in for Chambers in his absence.
Chambers has the experience, skills, and soccer IQ to help all players on the pitch. His lengthy recovery from a gruesome looking knee injury several weeks ago.
Burke acknowledged Chambers’ reemergence into his weekly starting XI discussions with a sense of relief earlier this week.
When asked about the time spent waiting for Chambers to recover, Burke said, “”It was long, felt like three years to me. It’s good to have him back and he’s free to play 90 minutes so that will be our focus this weekend, pushing him hard for 90 minutes.”
However, Steel FC fans shouldn’t expect Chambers to return to the pitch and immediately string the perfect key passes he does so well.
“It might take a few weeks for us to see him back at his top form but he worked really hard during that six or seven weeks where he was away” said Burke. “From a physical standpoint, it won’t take long,” said Burke.
Previewing Steel FC vs North Carolina FC
As for North Carolina FC, Burke was quick to acknowledge the streak of solid soccer coming out of their side. “You’re playing a team in good form, which put multiple goals on multiple teams at this venue [WakeMed Soccer Park],” Burke said.
Of course, Burke is referring to North Carolina’s recent stretch of impressive home soccer. They’ve won their last four home matches by a combined 14-1, including second and third round U.S. Open Cup victories on May 16th and 22nd.
After suffering a quieting 4-1 road loss at FC Cincinnati on the 19th, North Carolina conceded just one goal while netting eight goals during their most recent two match span.
Three things are certain. Both clubs have played some impressive soccer throughout May. Both clubs desperately need more results as opposed to flat-out losses. And Bethlehem Steel FC should be firing on all cylinders at kickoff tonight considering how their last match ended.
That 1-0 loss to Ottawa should be used as motivation. Motivation to kick off the month of June, a fresh slate so to speak, with an even better four weeks of soccer.
Expect to see more of the same from Burke’s club tonight. A ruthless top three are tasked with creating havoc up top while a midfield trio is asked to navigate the waves of opposing pressure in hopes of retaining more possession than is lost.
With the presence of Chambers in the midfield, the possession battle shouldn’t seem like such a heavyweight bout. The Irishman should make immediate impacts in hold up play while his quick touches and longer passes may take some time to return to their normal ways.
Steel FC will look to snag just their second road win of the 2018 campaign.
Prediction: Steel FC 2- North Carolina FC 1
Man of the Match: Santi Moar
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Mandatory Credit: bethlehemsteelfc.com