Following their second consecutive home loss Sunday night, Brendan Burke and his young club will need to regroup quickly as a very difficult uphill climb is ahead of them this weekend against in-state rivals Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
“We made a mistake. That stuff happens,” said Steel FC Head Coach Brendan Burke Thursday morning.
One mistake over the course of 90+ minutes cost Steel FC a chance at a home result last weekend against Memphis 901 FC. Center back Ben Ofeimu attempted to head a pass back to keeper Matt Freese with little pressure on him and Memphis’ Rashawn Dally picked the pass off and slotted home the match’s only goal.
Just like that, a match in which Steel FC were surely the better team was squandered. But Burke and his team understand that minor mistakes will occur throughout a long season. The key is to make sure they aren’t reoccurring.
“We need to pick up, move on from it and make sure that we react well. We have a much stronger opponent in Pittsburgh [Riverhounds SC] coming in this weekend,” said Burke. “We are all aware that they haven’t picked up the points that they probably would have expected to pick up at this point so far, so they’re coming in hungry as well.”
So far this season, Pittsburgh has played just two matches and they’ve failed to win either. With just one point heading into tonight’s match-up, Pittsburgh will look to assert themselves against a lesser opponent in Steel FC.
There’s no escaping the fact that Steel FC’s quality this year is drastically reduced from years past. The absence of MLS Superdraft picks has left a gaping whole in skill for Steel as Union Academy players have been asked to play fill-in roles often through their first three matches. The group as a whole hasn’t had the chance to gel and the lack of cohesion has been highly noticeable over the last two home matches. Both of which Steel FC have failed to earned results in disappointing fashion.
Pittsburgh is known throughout USL Championship as one of the better defensive teams each year. The 2019 Riverhounds SC team is no different. They will be tough to breakdown. And Burke and his club are well aware of the uphill climb they face tonight.
“There’s nowhere to hide,” said Burke when speaking about playing Pittsburgh. “If you make mistakes on this day, it can lead to multiple goals put on you and the guys understand that because they’ve lived through it a couple of times. For the guys that haven’t lived through it, this is going to be an eye-opening experience this weekend.”
Team captain James Chambers knows all too well just how effective Pittsburgh can be on the pitch. “They’ve got some really, really good players throughout the team, but defensively they’re as solid as they come,” said Chambers. “We’ll look to have a game plan going into the game and to implement it a lot better than we have in the last two weeks.”
One aspect of the game plan that has been severely lacking for Burke’s squad the last two matches has been a decisive sense of urgency when possessing the ball. All too often the ball has moved way too slowly especially when building up play out of the back. The center backs also lacked urgency when on the ball, deciding to pass left or right rather than moving straight up the field when the defense grants them space. But Burke and his staff have highlighted the lack of fight and urgency and hope they’ll see signs of life tonight.
“There’s absolutely nowhere to hide this weekend and if you’re tentative you’re going to get it worse. That’s all our guys need to know and we’ll grow through these experiences,” said Burke. “Whatever gets laid on us or if we are able to put together a result, fantastic, but it’s not going to be the end of the world come Monday. We know that there’s a gap between the teams coming into the game.”
So for Steel FC, tonight’s match will be about game management. They’ll have to be extra smart on the pitch tonight but ultimately the mistakes will have to be absent if they want a result. Burke mentioned a few weeks back that his teams have always been slow to develop given the constant roster changes and this season is much more difficult than previous years. He’ll hope his young side is up for the task tonight and hopefully they escape without being blown out on their own pitch.
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Mandatory Credit: Bethlehem Steel FC