Steel FC Aiming high
The conversation began with a brief reflection on what could prove to be a monumental result at the end of the season – Steel FC’s 2-1 win against North Carolina last Saturday night. Brendan Burke, the third-year head coach of Bethlehem, mentioned his team’s game-plan involved allowing North Carolina to attack. However, his team conceded a bit too much space.
“In the first half, we did want to absorb some of their possession and allow them to come out, so that the game could get stretched,” said Burke. “We ended up allowing a little bit too much for our liking. We weren’t getting pressure out to the ball quickly enough in our own half of the field,” said Burke.
The space and time granted to North Carolina’s attack led to a corner kick opportunity and a goal. A blown opportunity to clear the ball away from danger on that corner kick produced North Carolina their first and only goal.
“Obviously, we didn’t deal with it well on multiple levels – losing a mark but also missing a pretty simple opportunity for a block clearance at the front post. Those are things we’ve talked about. But the biggest thing we talked about at halftime was the need to really get out and show energy and intent to get into their [North Carolina] box and to disrupt any rhythm they may have put together in the first half,” said Burke.
Of course, there’s a distinct difference between a coaching staff preaching the need for changes at halftime and the players acknowledging the message and then translating those instructions into effective adjustments on the pitch.
At this moment, inside those locker room walls at halftime, is where midfield captain James Chambers expresses his talents. Chambers leadership proved to be the intangible force that allowed a seemingly dead Steel FC team – down 1-0 at half away from home – to rise up for a victory.
“[Chamber’s] presence is big. He spoke up at halftime when things needed to be said And that resonates with the guys because he’s out there doing it week-to-week and he’s done it hundreds of times before in his career,” said Burke of his team’s torchbearer.
By it, Burke refers to impact moments due to gutsy, passionate, hard-work. Chambers efforts arguably single-handedly produced both of Steel FC’s late goals last Saturday.
“[Chambers] played a key role in both goals. He clips in the ball that eventually drops to Santi [Moar] on the first one. And the second one he plays over the top, or actually, half out wide half over the top on a blind clearance because he knows where Santi is before the ball ever drops to him,” said Burke.
That blind clearance was something out of a video game. Chambers was facing squarely toward the sideline with is momentum shifting him back. Without taking his eyes of the ball settling at his feet, he ripped a perfectly weighted aerial ball which rolled onto the streaking Moar up the right-wing.
“Experience and foresight,” said Burke when discussing the intangibles Chambers provides. “It’s not something that we have at every position so it’s nice to have it in the middle of the park,” said Burke.
Following the win Saturday night, Chambers was quoted as saying “This team doesn’t know when it’s dead.” When Burke was asked what messages he and his staff have iterated since pre-season to instill this sort of ‘never die’ attitude, especially on the road, he mentioned two main factors: energy and fight.
“One of the most difficult things to do in pro sports is win on the road, and the minute you don’t bring the energy and fight to any environment, you really have no chance. And you need those two things along with a lot of, obviously, planning and preparation to get results on the road,” said Burke.
“It shows at the MLS level and it shows with a lot of the teams at the USL level – there aren’t many that are consistently winning on the road. They might get draws but it’s hard to win on the road,” said Burke.
On their road trip to North Carolina, Steel FC carried a tailored group of less than 18 players. Perhaps the smaller crew provide some increased team chemistry. Perhaps the team is finally gelling and meshing in complimentary ways.
“We’ve just told the guys that energy and fight are the two key ingredients and they showed both of those in the second half of the North Carolina game,” said Burke.
The team’s confidence is at an all-time high – and you can take that from Burke himself. And Chambers is a major reason why, of course. Burke stated matter-of-factually when asked whether the team’s recent streak of good soccer – except a hiccup 1-0 loss at Ottawa – and Chambers’ return has sparked the confidence boost:
“Yeah their leader’s back, and that’s clear,” said Burke.
Chambers and the rest of the Steel FC bunch play host to Louisville City FC Saturday evening in what could prove to be an early litmus test for Bethlehem. The end results could prove significant. After all, Steel FC are aiming to be in the discussion regarding the top team in the Eastern Conference when all is said in done this year.
What better way to prove your worth, while sending shock-waves throughout USL than to hand Louisville an L at Goodman Stadium?
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Mandatory Credit: Bethlehem Steel FC