A last second Steel FC goal by Adam Najem after a first half red card for Nashville SC granted Bethlehem a 2-1 road victory Saturday night. With the win, Steel FC increase their current road win streak to four. Bethlehem have won six out of their last seven contests and now sit seven points clear of the playoff line with six games left.
A pair of Union Academy players deserve recognition as center back Ben Ofeimu and central attacking midfielder Brenden Aaronson started for Brendan Burke Saturday night while Union midfielder Adam Najem returned to the lineup after a successful international experience with his father’s native country of Afghanistan.
Brendan Burke, Steel FC head coach, faced an early challenge. Just three minutes into the match, Matthew Real, the promising left back who’s been with the Union organization since age nine, collided just beyond midfield with Nashville midfielder Ismaila Jome. Real’s left leg was caught beneath Jome as they both contacted each other. Real hyper-extended his left knee and was on the ground in a significant amount of pain.
He would leave the field without placing any weight on the knee and later returned to the sideline on crutches to complete a heartbreaking scene for the young defender. Left back Prosper Chiluya would replace Real. Chiluya, the 20-year old Zambian youth international, played very well for entering a match under such circumstances and performed at a high level for the remainder of the match.
The injury to Real didn’t faze Bethlehem though. Consistently throughout the early stages of the match, Steel FC controlled the ball very effectively. Their energy levels surpassed those of Nashville SC as Burke’s squad turned a road match into one you’d see at Goodman Stadium. They never stepped off the gas.
Their decisive passing in Nashville’s half paid dividends in the 23rd minute when Chris Nanco received a pass from James Chambers roughly 30 yards from goal. Nanco turned quickly, took a touch toward goal, and released a hard hit right footed shot that deflected off Nashville defender Justin Davis’ upper body and into the back of the net. Matt Pickens, Nashville’s veteran keeper, reacted to his left and never had a chance to save the shot after the deflection.
The goal was vital for Steel FC as Nanco and his teammates celebrated joyfully. Things got even better for Bethlehem in the 31st minute when Jome picked up a second yellow and a subsequent red card after cleaning out Faris with a studs up slide tackle. Just four minutes prior, Jome went studs up in a tackle on Chiluya and received the first yellow. The red card was well deserved as Jome almost injured three Steel FC players in a half hour of play.
The first half ended quietly for Steel FC as they took the 1-0 lead against a 10-man Nashville side into halftime.
The second half was a starkly different match when compared to the first half. Bethlehem seemed content to sit on the ball with little motivation to move it forward at times. Multiple times throughout the early stages of the second half, Bethlehem tried building out of the back. However, at times they began too deep in their own half, which granted Nashville a few chances to swing the momentum.
During the 61st minute, Bethlehem managed to string together 15 straight passes moving from one side of the pitch to the other. Unfortunately, the accurate and well-timed passing wouldn’t lead to a goal due to stingy Nashville defending. Olivier Mbaizo and Aaronson ended up combining smartly along the right-wing which granted Aaronson an opportunity to enter the box and release a shot, but it was blocked.
The match shifted in Nashville’s favor a bit when substitute Kris Tyrpak entered in the 62nd minute, making his debut for the ninth-place side. Tyrpak brought a ton of energy and attacking creativity to the pitch for Nashville. In the 66th minute, Ropapa Mensah and Tyrpak worked a give and go down the right flank of Bethlehem’s defense. Tyrpak received the ball inside the right side of the box and released a well hit shot that rolled just wide of the net.
Two more substitutions from Nashville in the 72nd minute provided more energy for the 10-men side. Matt Lagrassa entered for Michael Reed and Tucker Hume replaced Mensah. Both Lagrassa and Hume were pivotal in Nashville’s equalizing goal.
That goal came in the 84th minute after Nashville forced a turnover in Bethlehem’s half of the field. Once more, Bethlehem attempted a conservative option in playing it out of the back, but this time it back fired. Nashville jumped on an errant pass and sprung forward in quick transition. Hume and Lobo Moloto combined beautifully before Moloto released a perfect through ball which found left back Justin Davis streaking forward into the box. Mbaizo was caught out of position, which allowed Davis the space to gather the ball and finish calmly for the equalizing goal.
Following the Nashville goal, Burke’s side went on the offensive pushing numbers forward. The heavy offensive effort paid off in miraculous fashion for Steel FC in the third and final minute of stoppage time.
In the 93rd minute of play, an Mbaizo clearance was settled nicely by Santi Moar just shy of the midfield line. Moar and Najem then combined smartly which sprang the counterattacking chance. Najem dished to Drew Skundrich who then passed to his to left to Marcus Epps. Epps quickly found Nanco striding forward into the box. Nanco then shot but it was saved by Pickens. Skundrich was there to try again on a rebound attempt but Pickens once more made a brilliant stop. However, Pickens didn’t get enough power on the save and the ball trickled to his right where Najem was waiting to bury home the game winning goal.
Bethlehem would escape Nashville with a crucial three points while extending their current road win streak to four games. They now have won six out of their last seven matches, while outscoring road opponents 10-1 over their last four road wins.
– Road defense: Despite changes to the backline Saturday night which saw 17-year old Benjamin Ofeimu stationed alongside Matt Mahoney, Bethlehem’s defense did well for 83 minutes of the match before conceding a goal. Dating back to August 4th, Steel FC have allowed just one goal in four road matches after completing three straight road shutouts.
– James Chambers: The 31-year old midfield captain was the smartest player on the pitch once more for Burke’s side. With a 17-year old along the backline and another 17-year old in Aaronson playing above him in the midfield, Chambers was instrumental in the 2-1 victory. He assisted Nanco’s goal which put Steel FC on the front foot. Once more, Chambers’ leadership abilities were on full display.
– Adam Najem: Najem netted the game winning goal, but perhaps more important to the win was his midfield play. Najem controlled the ball effectively throughout the entirety of the match. He played the center midfield role for the sixth time this season. He remained a calming presence throughout the center of the pitch and his passing was incisive and accurate throughout the match.
BETHLEHEM STEEL FC STARTING XI
Jake McGuire, Matthew Real (6’ Prosper Chiluya), Matt Mahoney, Benjamin Ofeimu, Olivier Mbaizo, James Chambers, Adam Najem, Chris Nanco, Brenden Aaronson (72’ Drew Skundrich), Marcus Epps, Faris (64’ Santi Moar)
Substitutes: Tomas Romero, AJ Paterson, Brandon Aubrey, Aidan Apodaca
NASHVILLE SC STARTING XI
Matt Pickens, Justin Davis, Liam Doyle, Bradley Bourgeois, Ismaila Jome (RED CARD 31’), Michael Reed (72’ Matt Lagrassa), Bolu Akinyode, Taylor Washington, Lebo Moloto, Alan Winn (62’ Kris Tyrpak), Ropapa Mensah (72’ Tucker Hume)
Substitutes: CJ Cochran, London Woodberry, Kosuke Kimura, Robin Shroot
GOALS / ASSISTS
23’ BST – Chris Nanco (James Chambers)
84’ NSH – Justin Davis (Lebo Moloto)
90+3’ BST – Adam Najem (unassisted)
YELLOW / RED CARDS
27’ NSH – YELLOW -Ismaila Jome (unsporting behavior)
31’ NSH – 2ND YELLOW – RED -Ismaila Jome (unsporting behavior)
45’ PHI – YELLOW – Olivier Mbaizo (unsporting behavior)
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Mandatory Credit Bethlehem Steel FC.