Steel FC look to snag second consecutive result in home opening match Saturday against North Carolina FC

After kicking off the 2019 USL Championship season in winning fashion in Alabama, Steel FC begin their home campaign in Chester Saturday as North Carolina FC come to town.

Steel FC captain James Chambers (right) battles for the ball in last years match vs North Carolina FC. Mandatory Credit:

Normally the head coach of a team who earned a hard fought three points away from home to begin the year would seem full of confidence. However, Steel FC Head Coach Brendan Burke understands the unique challenges his team faces each week with an ever-changing roster and dynamic USL Championship opponents.

“It’s kind of back to the drawing board,” said Burke Thursday. “You get to enjoy it for a day or so and then back to the drawing board. Then try to prepare for a North Carolina team that showed great commitment on the defensive side of the ball last week and a real cutting edge when they got out in transition.”

North Carolina FC will roll into town riding a high wave of momentum after they defeated the defending champions Louisville City FC 4-1 last weekend. In fact, North Carolina should’ve escaped with a clean sheet but a stoppage time goal in the 90+ minute sabotaged a stellar defensive effort. For North Carolina, that defensive energy and cohesion created effective offense. Their tactical plan is precise and their players remain committed on both sides of the ball.

Much of that cohesion is due to the emergence of Head Coach Dave Sarachan as the new skipper for North Carolina. Sarachan, of course, formally coached the US Men’s National Team most recently before accepting the USL Championship coaching job.

“You can see the energy level in the group and how committed they are defending. I’d say that’s number one,” said Burke when asked of Sarachan’s early impacts on North Carolina FC. “There’s a good tempo on the ball. I think he’s just added a real element of excitement to that club. He’s one of the best coaches in the country, no one would question that.”

North Carolina netted four goals with four different goal scorers, which highlights the dynamic attacking options they possess. Perhaps more surprisingly though, was their defense – almost blanking Lousiville. Yet, Steel FC players have been instructed to remain compact and to rely on communication between teammates to take control of the match Saturday.

“We jus have to keep firing, keep going,” said young Steel FC defender Ben Ofeumu. “We just have to keep pushing, get one [goal] and stay tight in the back and hopefully not let up one again.”

Two early second half goals propelled Steel FC to victory over Birmingham last weekend. Goals from Union reserve forward Kacper Przybylko and rookie Zach Zandi just 15 minutes apart sealed the road victory. The offensive chances will need to be there Saturday in order to gain an upper hand on a dangerous North Carolina team.

However, Burke and his club will focus mainly on their defensive tactics ahead of their home opener.

“What North Carolina did so well against Louisville was stay compact and get all their bodies behind the ball. One, we have to make them run effectively and not be back to front so quickly,” said Burke. “When we are back to front, we need to commit numbers to the areas where we anticipate playing in to when we’re a little more direct and really making sure we win those little individual battles or numbers-battles from a positional standpoint.”

Union Academy graduate and creative midfielder Issa Rayyan shared similar thoughts.

“We’re going to find out what their strongest attack is, stay compact and communicate,” when asked how he and his teammates will prep for North Carolina. “We’re just going to do everything we can to know a lot about North Carolina. Just go in there, get a game plan and do everything we can to stick to the plan and hopefully we get the result.”

One thing is for certain, Steel FC players seem to all be on the same page when it comes to playing successful soccer. They all seem to understand the extreme importance of communication while relying on teammates to remain compact positionally. There will be no room for mistakes Saturday as they try to impress their home fans in a brand new home venue, Talen Energy Stadium.

“With our new system we have lots of speed up top, just putting it to the flanks and our midfielders come to support them,” said Rayyan. “We’re going to try to utilize that and our speed up top and hopefully we get some goals.”

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