Despite heavy rains to start the second half, Bethlehem Steel FC held off Ottawa Fury FC on their way to a crucial 2-0 home win thanks to two goals from Santi Moar. Steel FC have now won five out of their last six matches with clean sheets in their last four victories.
Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke implored Marcus Epps to make early impacts on the match. Epps did not disappoint. Both he and Cameroonian right back Olivier Mbaizo combined neatly on multiple occasions throughout the early stages of the match along Ottawa’s left flank.
Santi Moar, the Spanish winger, has been the main offensive catalyst for Steel FC over the last two seasons and he did more of the same Wednesday night. Fortunately for Moar, who’s mother was in the stands, his scoring ways were too much for Ottawa’s right side.
During the 16th minute, Epps intercepted a pass near midfield and knocked the ball forward for striker Aidan Apodaca. Apodaca, who remained effective with his back to goal all match, neatly nodded the ball back down for Epps who was sprinting forward on the counter attack. Epps took a few touches before releasing a perfectly weighted through ball for the streaking Moar. Moar gathered the ball, noticed the oncoming keeper Maxime Crepeau, and skillfully chipped the ball up and over the keeper for the match’s first goal. Epps picked up the assist – his second on the year.
A sense of relief overcame Goodman Stadium as Burke’s squad executed their game plan – scoring the first goal – to perfection. Burke spoke at length earlier this week about how important it would be to score early which would force Ottawa out of their defensive shell.
Another 16 minutes past and Steel FC tallied their second goal, essentially earning the W within the first 35 minutes of play.
A Bethlehem corner kick in the 31st minute was played short to Moar who took a few touches toward the box before passing back to the waiting Matt Real. Real, with his dangerous left foot, sent a dangerously teasing ball toward the back post for midfielder Drew Skundrich. Skundrich managed to get his head on it in hopes of playing it back towards the center of the goal box but Ottawa defender Thomas Meilleur-Giguere reached his hand skyward and contacted the ball. A penalty kick was awarded and Moar stepped up and buried it home for the second goal, increasing his point tally to 20 with six goals and eight assists on the year.
The first half ended without Ottawa creating any pressure. In total, Bethlehem strung 265 total passes with a 79% accuracy rating to end the half, a clear sign that Burke’s team was poised to sit on the ball and let it roll around for extended periods as Ottawa tried to defend.
The second half began with a downpour as the skies darkened and rain fell heavily. At certain points during the brief rain shower, visibility was reduced significantly as the pitch drank up the rain. Players lost footing frequently and the play throughout the midfield grew sloppy.
The rain ended up helping Steel FC. Ottawa struggled to keep possession and rarely threatened Steel FC keeper John McCarthy. Despite registering 11 shots – six in the second half – Ottawa managed to force McCarthy to make a save just once.
Ottawa head coach Nikola Popovic decided to make two changes at the half in hopes of sparking his club into a comeback. Forward Tony Taylor entered for midfielder Chris Mannella and defender Eddie Edward entered for fellow defender Bahiya. However, those subs proved ineffective. In fact, Taylor received a yellow card just four minutes into the second half.
To maintain the 2-0 lead, Burke’s squad continued to press effectively to end the match. Skundrich, who has been a major factor in Steel FC’s recent run of good form, created several problems for Ottawa throughout the center of the pitch. The former Stanford Cardinal standout and Lancaster, PA native routinely covers a ton of ground while pestering opponent’s all over the pitch. His athleticism and quickness are two valuable traits to have in a central midfielder.
Ottawa would not create any other chances at goal after their only shot on target in the 68th minute. A dangerous free kick was taken by Christian Portilla who sent a curling ball toward the back post. Ottawa defender David Edgar squeezed between Steel FC captain James Chambers and center back Matt Mahoney to free himself for a headed chance on goal. McCarthy made a beautiful reaction save with both hands to parry it over the bar. The ensuing corner kick was spoiled for Ottawa by some more clinical defending from Steel FC.
Steel FC created a golden opportunity to surely finish Ottawa in the 77th minute. Mbaizo pressed forward and created a perfect offensive chance after dribbling from the left side of the box all the way across the top to the left where he found Faris inside the box. Mbaizo continued forward on an overlap run, received the ball back from Faris, and centered a perfect pass for the unmarked Josh Yaro. Yaro, returning to play after injury, hit it on the first touch but his shot rang off the crossbar.
Ottawa would not threaten Steel FC throughout the last 10+ minutes of play. Steel FC finished out the 2-0 W for their sixth home victory of 2018 which ties the franchise record for most home wins in a season set last year. They now need one more victory in their final seven matches to tie the franchise record for most wins in a season (12 W’s in 2017).
A quick turnaround provides Steel FC with a challenging weekend match-up at ninth place Nashville SC Saturday night at 8:30PM. Currently, though things will change, Steel FC sit tied for fifth place with 39 points – 4 points clear of the playoff line.
Santi Moar – He now leads the team in goals (6), assists (8), and points (20). Moar routinely creates havoc along the outer portions of the pitch but he also possesses the ability to cut inside and make defenders back pedal. Think Ilsinho when you think of Moar. They both have the skills to create an offensive chance out of thin air.
Olivier Mbaizo + Matt Real – Stout defending and offensive creativity from both outside backs provided enormous benefits for Bethlehem Wednesday night. Mbaizo created two chances on the night while registering 72 touches on the ball – second on the night behind James Chambers’ 74. Real created the PK opportunity with his dangerous left foot. Both created problems for Ottawa and their attempts to transition offensively as well.
Matt Mahoney – The Temple grad provided yet another flawless defensive performance. The right back turned center back played the left side of the field very effectively for not routinely playing the left center back position. Mahoney strung 53 passes together – second being Chambers (59) – with an impressive team high passing accuracy of 86.8%.
BETHLEHEM STEEL FC STARTING XI:
John McCarthy, Matthew Real, Matt Mahoney, Josh Yaro, Olivier Mbaizo, James Chambers, Drew Skundrich, Santi Moar (89’ Brandon Aubrey), Brenden Aaronson (83’ Chris Nanco), Marcus Epps, Aidan Apodaca (73’ Faris)
Substitutes: Tomas Romero, Prosper Chiluya, AJ Patterson, Ben Ofeimu
OTTAWA FURY FC STARTING XI:
Maxime Crepeau, Clement Bayiha (45’ Eddie Edward), David Edgar, Thomas Meilleur-Giguere, Onua Obasi, Chris Mannella (45’ Tony Taylor), Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare, Christian Portilla, Kevin Oliveira (61’ Adonijah Reid), Carl Haworth, Steevan Dos Santos
Substitutes: David Monsalve, Nana Attakora
GOALS / ASSITS
16’ BST – Santi Moar (Marcus Epps, Aidan Apodaca)
32’ BST – Santi Moar (PK – created by Matt Real and Drew Skundrich)
YELLOW / RED CARDS
31’ OTT – Thomas Meilleur-Giguere (Hand ball in box)
41’ BST – Drew Skundrich (Unsporting Behavior)
49’ OTT – Tony Taylor (Unsporting Behavior)
58’ OTT – Christian Portilla (Dissent)
73’ BST – Santi Moar (Dissent)
84’ BST – Josh Yaro (Deliberate Handball)
88’ OTT – Carl Haworth (Unsporting Behavior)
90+2’ BST – Brandon Aubrey (Unsporting Behavior)
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Mandatory Credit: Bethlehem Steel FC.