Bethlehem Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke and his players are planning to rebound in August following an emphatic 4-1 home win against Atlanta United 2 to end the month of July Sunday night.
Rewind 31 days back to the moment you realized you need to change your calendar from June to July. At that moment, you probably weren’t all that worried about Steel FC. Mainly because they went unbeaten in June. Why would you worry?
July: 1-1-4 (4 points)
Well, quite simply, July happened. And it wasn’t pretty for Burke’s crew.
“July wasn’t our best month,” said defender Matt Mahoney.
Mahoney, fresh off scoring his second professional goal Sunday night, is one of the locker room leaders for an ever-changing Steel FC roster. Another leader, the captain in fact, James Chambers shared a similar viewpoint of the month that was.
When asked about the importance of securing the 4-1 win against Atlanta to cap July, Chambers said “I think it was huge.” He continued, “We had a couple of difficult performances where we probably weren’t as good as we should have been or do enough in games to win, so for us to finish July with a win was big.”
A win is most definitely bound to increase the mood inside the locker. But how exactly can Steel FC capture this sudden jolt of confidence? Can it last throughout the last two plus months of the season?
“We just have to keep pushing,” Chambers said. “It doesn’t matter what has happened before now, there are two and a half months left in the season and we need to knuckle down and start putting serious points on the board to push us up the table,” stated Chambers rather bluntly.
Currently, Steel FC sit just below the playoff line in the table at ninth with 27 points. Also, with 27 points sit Ottawa Fury FC. North Carolina FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies, and Penn FC all have 26 points apiece creating a very tight playoff race.
Steel FC earned just four of a possible 18 points throughout July. Suffering four loses in a month, especially one at home, may come back to bite Steel FC when the season is all said and done.
However, Steel FC’s next opponent, Richmond Kickers, are virtually out of playoff consideration barring a remarkable turnaround in form. They sit at 14th with 18 points and are winless in their last four matches. Another positive in Steel FC’s favor would be their last two outings against Richmond so far this season.
4-1 W provides confidence + momentum for young pros
In two matches against Richmond, Steel FC have scored seven goals. Saturday night’s matchup will be a golden opportunity for Burke and his club to embark on a playoff push. Not only will Steel FC be looking to begin August on a high note, they’ll be focusing on continuing their offensive explosion from last Sunday.
“Happy with the response to dig us out of the hole we dug ourselves in July,” said Burke post-match Sunday. “Putting the ball in the back of the net; there is no substitute for that in terms of confidence,” said Burke.
Three Steel FC players tallied their first professional goals. After Mahoney opened the scoring with just his second goal of his career, Aidan Apodaca buried a close-range shot for his first. “It felt like a big weight was taken off my shoulders,” said Apodaca after the match. Apodaca appeared in 11 games so far, with five starts.
The next to open their professional scoring account was Faris, the 18-year Cameroonian forward recently acquired. 11 minutes after entering the match as a substitute, Faris rocketed a left-footed shot into the back of the net after settling a headed pass from left back Prosper Chiluya.
Faris’ goal in the 71st was the nail in Atlanta’s coffin. After the match, Faris shared some honesty about coming off the bench. “I was angry because I want to score but everything went right for myself today,” said Faris. “If I’m able to help my team, then I’m happy to give back and get the goal.” Since joining the club in mid-July, Faris has appeared in three matches with two starts.
The last player to knock home their first pro goal was Philadelphia Union Academy’s Brenden Aaronson. The creative central midfielder registered an assist earlier in the contest for Steel FC’s second goal but wanted one for himself later.
Barely a minute after Faris’ goal, the Cameroonian forced a turnover and sprang forward on a counter attack. Faris gained a step on his man near the byline before ripping a pass back into the penalty area where Aaronson connected for the goal. “I’m truly grateful, it’s great to score your first goal,” said Aaronson.
Not only was there an aura of confidence radiating throughout the locker room thanks to a W. Others were thrilled to see guys notching their first goals as well.
“We had three guys score their first professional goal today so that’s a huge thing for a developmental club,” said Burke post-match. And as far as Aaronson’s play is concerned, Burke is thoroughly pleased. “He was able to consistently find space and play forward,” said Burke.
Aaronson, who recently received USL Team of the Week honors, will be a mainstay for Steel FC down the stretch. “He’s adjusted to this level and I think he’s very much part of our team the rest of the season,” said Burke.
So with a resounding victory, three players cracking the scoring columns for the first time, and confidence all around, Steel FC will need to focus up. From August 6th to the 16th, Steel FC have four matches. The club is approaching perhaps the most grueling stretch of their season when results are needed more now than ever. And it begins with a two-match road trip.
“From a mentality standpoint, I think it’s a unique opportunity for us where we are all traveling together,” said Burke.
Perhaps some team bonding on the road is what Steel FC needs to produce results in August. Either way, their latest 4-1 home victory should fuel their fires for the time being.
“It’s a fresh month now and we’re on the road so hopefully things will work out differently for us,” said Chambers.
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Mandatory Credit: Bethlehem Steel FC.