Bethlehem Steel FC battled back on the road for a 2-1 victory against North Carolina FC thanks to late goals from Michee Ngalina and Union Academy player, Ben Ofeimu.
A rain-soaked Saturday night at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park was the scene as Bethlehem Steel FC netted two goals after the 80-minute mark to complete a stunning comeback victory on the road at North Carolina FC.
Steel FC + Academy Riches Continue
Lightning strikes near the stadium delayed the opening kick while a steady rain fell from a sunlit North Carolina sky. Bethlehem, in the road whites, rolled onto the pitch with yet another Philadelphia Union Academy member debuting for the club. Ben Ofeimu became just the sixth Academy player to make his Steel FC debut in the starting XI. Ofeimu joins fellow Union defenders Auston Trusty and Matt Real among others.
Ofeimu’s goal in the 83rd minute, an equalizer, made history. The 17-year old became the youngest goalscorer in Steel FC history – officially 17-years and eight months old. His strike created a whirlwind of momentum for Bethlehem which resulted in Michee Ngalina’s game-winning goal just two minutes later in the 85th.
Both goals were assisted by Santi Moar, the Spanish winger with endless creativity. Moar is now just one of three Steel FC players to ever record a pair of assists in a single game. He joins Philadelphia Union midfielder Adam Najem and striker Cory Burke as the only other two. The assists were Moar’s second and third on the year, and ninth overall in his USL career.
However, up until the 80th-minute, North Carolina seemed set to escape with a 1-0 home victory. After all, North Carolina’s home form prior to last night’s match sat at 4-0-0 with a +13 goal differential. The match was all but over.
North Carolina FC Up Early
North Carolina netted an early 16th-minute goal off a corner kick sent in by Kyle Bekker. A perfectly executed slide tackle by Steel FC defender Matt Mahoney sent the ball out for a North Carolina corner kicker. However, Mahoney’s gritty defensive effort was not duplicated by his teammates. Bekker’s delivery bounced past three Steel FC defenders and landed at the feet of USL-veteran midfielder Peabo Doue who buried the chance.
The goal was Doue’s first with North Carolina FC. Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke will most likely spend a lot of time in the film room showing the total lack of urgency from his team while defending that set piece.
The rest of the first half proved to be even-sided. The former Generation Adidas midfielder, Fabian Herbers, showcased his offensive prowess by continually maneuvering forward through North Carolina’s midfield. On several occasions, Herbers utilized quick bursts of speed to cut diagonally in from his right-wing position. At one point, Herbers collected a pass, quickly turned following a perfect touch, and rifled a right-footed blast that missed the upper left corner of the net by just a tad.
Bekker and the rest of North Carolina’s midfield proved to be a bit too much to overcome throughout the match’s first 45 minutes. North Carolina pressured for most of the half and created six shots compared to just three from Steel FC. Those shots and extra possession from North Carolina FC, didn’t test Steel FC keeper Jake McGuire though.
Second Half: All Steel FC’s Way
Chris Nanco came on for an injured Aidan Apodaca prior to the first half’s conclusion. Nanco provided immediate impacts throughout the second half. Both he and Moar proved too much for North Carolina to contain, considering Najem’s creative skills centrally.
The speed from Ngalina, Moar, and Nanco continued to wear down North Carolina as Bethlehem started to see success on counter-attacking opportunities.
Stout defending, and teamwork created what would be a barrage of offensive pressure in the match’s final 20 minutes. A four on six counter chance occurred in the 82’ minute which resulted in a right-footed shot by Moar. The Spaniard’s shot was deflected by North Carolina keeper Alex Tambakis and trickled out for a corner.
The ensuing corner opportunity was cleared by North Carolina but Steel FC continued pressing. Nanco forced another corner in the 83rd. An incomplete clearance from North Carolina allowed Moar to take on two defenders. Moar then beat them with skill, and sent a perfect far post cross to the feet of Ofeimu. Ofeimu collected himself and put the chance home for his first Steel FC goal.
Momentum, confidence, good will… Call it what you will, but it totally infiltrated Steel FC’s mindset following the equalizer.
Or you could just chalk it up to the return of James Chambers.
Chambers battled and won a 50/50 in his own half in the 85th minute. Upon winning possession, he launched a pinpoint long ball down the right flank – without looking – allowing Moar to run onto it. Moar beat his man to the endline and slid a beautiful pass across Tambakis’ goal mouth. Ngalina was awaiting the pass at the far post for a near perfectly executed counter attack.
North Carolina struggled to compose themselves following Ngalina’s goal. Steel FC escaped with a hard fought and well-earned road victory.
– James Chambers is back: The return of the Irish captain / player coach to Steel FC’s starting XI was a welcomed one. Chambers played all 90+ and should’ve been awarded with a secondary assist on Ngalina’s goal. He utilized his voice, like always, to help communication between teammates.. Burke and Steel FC fans know just how important Chambers’ on-field presence is. His leadership created an opportunity to steal a comeback road victory. The six to seven absence was surely felt.
–Michee Ngalina & Santi Moar: These two wingers displayed great speed, creativity, and attacking instincts yet again for Bethlehem. Continuously throughout this 2018 campaign, speed on the wings has helped Steel FC create offense. The addition of Ngalina created even more speed on the outskirts of the pitch for Burke’s squad. However, Moar possesses a skill set that makes him truly unique: his passing. Moar’s two assists last night were the eighth and ninth of his young USL career.
–Matt Real & Ben Ofeimu: Bethlehem’s backline featured two Steel FC contracted players along with two Philadelphia Union affiliated players, a normal routine. However, both of those Union affiliated players, Matt Real and Ben Ofeimu, have strong ties to Philadelphia’s YSC Academy. Real graduated last year while Ofeimu is still an Academy member. Both played well-rounded games and represented the Academy well. Real and Ofeimu playing along the same backline continues to stoke flames of optimism moving forward when analyzing Academy production.
Bethlehem Steel FC Starting XI:
Jake McGuire, Matt Real, Brandon Aubrey, Ben Ofeimu, Matt Mahoney, James Chambers, Adam Najem, Santi Moar, Fabian Herbers (Drew Skundrich 61’), Michee Ngalina (Mike Catalano 90’), Aidan Apodaca (Chris Nanco 45’)
Substitutes: AJ Paterson, Prosper Chiluya
North Carolina FC Starting XI:
Alex Tambakis, Peabo Doue, Connor Tobin, Michael Harrington, D.J. Taylor, Austin Da Luz, Graham Smith, Marcel Kandziora (Tiyi Shipalane 87’), Kyle Bekker, Donovan Ewolo, Daniel Rios (Dre Fortune 80’), Ulrich Ewolo (Marios Lomis 68’)
Substitutes: Austin Guerrero, Aaron Guillen, Wuilito Fernandes, Cameron Steele
NC 16’ – Pablo Doue (Kyle Bekker)
BST 83’ – Ben Ofeimu (Santi Moar)
BST 85’ – Michee Ngalina (Santi Moar, 2)
Yellow / Red Cards
BST 25’ – YELLOW – Adam Najem
NC 57’ – YELLOW – Connor Tobin
NC 67’ – YELLOW – Michael Harrington
NC 89’ – YELLOW – Austin da Luz