Bethlehem Steel FC win first playoff game in heart-stopping fashion; move on to USL quarterfinals

ZZ STEEL FC

This past weekend Bethlehem Steel FC won their first ever playoff game in heart-stopping fashion. Two comebacks, and a perfect penalty shootout pushed Steel FC past Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.

Steel FC took on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in the opening round of USL playoffs. Pittsburgh dominated Bethlehem in their two meetings in the regular season. The playoff meeting between the two favored Pittsburgh greatly, as they had only lost three times at home all season. This Keystone State clash would be a game of firsts; Pittsburgh’s first playoff match, and Steel FC’s first playoff win!

90 minutes of Regulation play:

1st half:

From the moment the first whistle blew, the intensity was high. Both teams looked to possess the ball; crisp passing and hard tackles were all over the pitch! As the game settled down, Pittsburgh found their footing. Riverhounds SC did a great job of stifling Steel FC’s wingers, which was the way Bethlehem looked to attack Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh then pushed their numbers forward to tray and find a way past Steel FC.

In the 25th minute Riverhounds SC found the breakthrough. At this point they were dictating the run of play, and had Steel FC sitting deep. They played the ball into the final third and looked to play crosses into Steel FC’s box. As a cross came in Steel FC’s defenders had their marks, but a late run from Pittsburgh’s Ben Zemanski cause problems. His run froze Matt Real who had to make the choice to take Zemanski or stay on his man. Zemanski had an open header and he placed it into the net past the outstretched arms of Jake McGuire. The opening half progressed and Steel FC tried to get back into the match, but fell short in doing so in the first half.

2nd half:

In the second half Steel FC were notable more tenacious. Pittsburgh continued to look dangerous, but were not able to get many scoring oppertunities thanks to Bethlehem’s stout defensive play. The match rolled on, and Steel FC looked to exploit Pittsburgh on the counter attack. They were able to do just that in the 70th minute.

As Steel FC cleared pressure the ball made its way to second half sub Chris Nanco. Nanco was able to find Santi Moar on the left-wing; Moar had a clear run into Pittsburgh’s box. The Spaniard’s touch took him into the box, where he was able to pick his head up and see the run of Michee Ngalina. Ngalina had split two Pittsburgh defenders to get to the cross; he redirected the ball into the net to tie the game for Steel FC. In the remaining 20 minutes of regular time, Pittsburgh pushed the tempo, while Bethlehem looked to absorb and counter attack. No team was able to find a second goal.

Steel FC had come back from a 1-0 deficit to force 30 minutes of extra time!

30 minutes of Extra Time:

1st half of extra time:

The 30 minutes of extra time was a bit crazy. Both sides notably fatigued, but the match continued to follow its flow. Pittsburgh held the majority of possession; Bethlehem looked to hit their opposition on the counter. Pittsburgh’s overwhelming attack paid off at the end of the first period of extra time. After failing to convert on a corner, Pittsburgh regained possession and pinned Bethlehem in their own box.

Joe Holland fired a shot that beat Steel FC’s keeper and the struck the crossbar. The ball then hung in the air. Pittsburgh’s Hugh Roberts was at the doorstep of the open net. The ex-Steel FC player headed home the chance and gave his new side the lead. Bethlehem now had 15 minutes to find an equalizer to stay alive.

2nd half of extra time:

Steel FC let no time pass when the second half of extra time kicked off. Bethlehem began the half on the front foot as they tried to tie the match. Just four minutes into the half they were presented a great opportunity. Pittsburgh committed a foul just outside their own box, almost directly in the center of the pitch. Bethlehem Captain James Chambers stepped to the ball to try to tie the game. A wall was set up to the right of the keeper.

As the whistle blew Chambers ran up to the ball and smashed it to the left side. The curling shot look to have missed the target, but it struck the left post and ricocheted into the net! The huge goal from the Irishman tied the game. As the game entered the last minutes of extra time both teams scrambled to get chances, but none could score again.

In extra time Steel FC went down a goal, and came back again to tie the match and force a penalty shootout.

Penalty Shootout:

With all of the pressure on their shoulders, each player that stepped up to the penalty spot knew he could help move his team to the quarterfinals of the USL playoffs. Each team was on fire. Honestly, my words will not do the sequence justice. Take a look at the video above for the heart-stopping action.

Steel FC advance in the playoffs after making eight penalties in a row. Interestingly enough, ex-Philadelphia Union player Raymond Lee was the player who missed the only penalty kick of the night. The miss ended Pittsburgh’s season.

The penalties went eight rounds where Steel FC prevailed; they scored on all eight of their attempts while Pittsburgh missed their eighth shot. This historic match came to an end, and Bethlehem Steel won their first ever playoff game in amazing fashion.

Highlights:

On to the Quarterfinals:

Steel FC are back in action this Saturday night as they take on second seeded Louisville City. Many Philadelphia Union fans will see some familiar faces on Louisville City’s bench as their head coach is ex-Union head coach John Hackworth, and assistant coach Danny Cruz was once a Union player. They have Louisville City playing at a high level. This match should be another high-octane affair!

Steel FC are ready for the match, but will be without two of their starters from the previous win. Anthony Fontana and Matt Real will away with the US Under-20 national team for World Cup Qualifying matches. Bethlehem will have to utilize its deep midfield to find a replacement for Fontana, while Real’s left back spot will have to be filled as well.

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Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Bethlehem Steel FC.

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