James Chambers spent a bit of his afternoon last week chatting with PSN’s Matt McClain about his new contract and the upcoming season. Contract negotiations, coaching, and his leadership roles were discussed as well as what Steel FC followers can expect in 2019.
As Tim, myself, others have already mentioned, Ernst Tanner’s decision to trade all of Philadelphia’s MLS SuperDraft picks to FC Cincinnati for cash sent a clear message to the Union fanbase and the rest of MLS. That message would read something like this:
“Our Academy is strong enough at this point to field Steel FC roster players with promising young talent. We don’t need to build through the draft this year, instead I’ll take cash.”
And while the strategic and – to some – shocking yet impressive decision to do away with draft picks might not necessarily impact the Union directly in terms of player personnel, Bethlehem Steel FC will most definitely face a major transition to an even younger club.
As evidence by the signing of 15-year Selmir Miscic last September, Steel FC will feature a heavy presence of Union Academy players. Ben Ofeimu’s contract signing earlier this morning further paints a picture of a youthful matchday 18 every week for Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke.
Yet Burke remains excited for the upcoming year. He acknowledged that the early stages of the season may be a bit bumpy. Which is obviously expected when a roster comprised of first year pros and college rookies takes the pitch together for the first few stints.
But Burke and the Steel FC family have been through this before. Several Academy players have suited up and appeared on matchday 18 cards for Steel FC since their existence. Last year featured plenty of teenagers including Ofeimu and Brenden Aaronson to name a few.
It’s also worth mentioning, the recent Academy graduates have shown themselves to be proper professionals. Anthony Fontana, Mark McKenzie, Matt Real, and Auston Trusty in particular have shown they are capable of handling not only the pro spotlight but also the daily demands to improve.
Ofeimu is no different. So credit belongs to not only Steel FC technical staff but also to the countless influences these Academy graduates learn from as they progress through the ranks.
To help continue the progression of the Academy graduates like Ofeimu and others, the Union have been blessed by the presence of veteran midfielder James Chambers. Chambers has been a vocal role model for all players during his tenure with Steel FC and the organization as a whole.
Chambers was gracious enough to share some of his time to speak with me a couple of weeks ago regarding his new contract and the familiar yet perhaps even more important role he’ll be asked to fulfill in 2019.
“At the end of the season we sat down and had a conversation – maybe halfway through heading towards the end of last season – that it was a possibility that they’d like me to stick around,” said Chambers via phone call. “ I relayed the message to them that I was happy to stay. And obviously Ernst sees something in me that I can contribute to his project – and it’s the same project it’s just a ‘new look’ project essentially.”
“I think once the end of the season came everybody was in the same boat and rowing the same way that I wanted to come back and they wanted me to come back,” said Chambers. “I’m just fortunate enough to be given another opportunity.”
That ‘new look’ project will focus on providing Union Academy players to gain pro experience while helping the Union save some cash in the meantime. Academy players are in most cases a bit easier to transition into a pro contract when compared to a current pro looking to make a comeback of sorts – like Brandon Aubrey last year.
When asked about his outlook for he and his teammates heading into 2019, Chambers made it well-known that winning is on the forefront.
“Even though were younger, it’s going to be difficult again and there’s an awful lot of new teams coming in. There are going to be more or less 10 teams that get into that playoff contention and that has to be the aim,” Chambers said. “There has to be a will and a want to win and that’s where I feel players get the best education: winning games. It forms a habit. Winning is a habit, losing is a habit. You don’t want players thinking that losing becomes acceptable.”
In other words, Steel FC isn’t simply a team where youth players can just gain pro experience. There must be a deeper purpose. And forming those winning habits is a major piece of the puzzle.
Chambers recently agreed to a one-year deal with an option for a second. At this point, I’ll go ahead and guarantee the Irishman will be brought back that second year. Mainly because the man has earned it. And he’s learned a lot along the way too.
“So many people and so many players are different, and each person and player takes a different approach. Some people need an arm around their shoulder and in my case I started to get better at that and now I can portray the message in a different way,” said Chambers.
After all, Chambers is heavily looked upon to mentor the youngsters that come through the locker room and training pitch. And with the age decreasing each season, Chambers has learned that perhaps being tough on a young player may not always be the best way to go about things.
“It was something that just came to me. I think I’ve grown into it a little bit more and I really do actually enjoy it now,” said Chambers when asked about his leadership roles with Steel FC and also his Academy coaching role.
Chambers now is in full control of a U11 Academy team and he’s perhaps found his true calling once he calls it time to hang up the playing boots. “I really really enjoy that. I’ve dabbled in coaching before and I’ve been involved in it, but this is the first time where I’ve been at a level where I’m responsible for a higher number of kids, and I absolutely love it. I really really like it. I love learning and developing all the time,” said Chambers when asked about his interest in coaching.
It’s that passion to grow and evolve that helps Chambers be a confident leader on and off the pitch for Steel FC. And this season, with Tanner and the rest of the Union technical staff vying to be as young as ever in the USL ranks, Chambers will have an opportunity to make his greatest impact yet.
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Mandatory Credit: Bethlehem Steel FC