With eight games remaining, four of those still to play in September, Bethlehem Steel FC began the busiest month of the season with four points and five goals scored through two matches. At 12th place in the Eastern Conference table and eight points below the playoff line, is it too late for Head Coach Brendan Burke’s young squad to battle back.
“You know we’re the second youngest team ever to play in this league,” said Steel FC Head Coach Brendan Burke Saturday night after his team’s gritty 3-3 draw at North Carolina FC. “I walk away very proud of a young group.”
On the same night, former Union Academy member and 17-year old Shanyder Borgelin scored the first professional goal of his career and international signing Yomi Scintu scored his first Steel FC goal in his fourth start, James Chambers earned his 100th career start with the club.
Chambers, the 32-year old Irishman, now has 109 career appearances with Steel FC and has been the lead figure since the club’s inception. Without Chambers, Burke and the rest of the technical staff would surely be hurting considering the youth on the roster sheet.
But last night, Steel FC played like grown-men. At one point, Steel FC was down 2-0. Then 3-1 a bit later. But they stole a point regardless.
Despite allowing goals in the 9th and 20th minutes of the first half, Steel FC clawed back. Instead of putting their tails between their legs while desperately awaiting the halftime whistle, Steel FC battled back, securing the first of three goals in the 45th minute.
Issa Rayyan, yet another promising player, and former Union Academy guy created the scoring chance for Scintu in the 45th. Rayyan darted forward from his right-back spot down the right flank and sent a low cross toward the goal box. Scintu, sprinting forward, slid toward the ball and managed to get a toe on it to redirect the pass into the back of the net.
The combination was flawless, and with it, Steel FC was able to get a little momentum into halftime.
But NCFC scored just two minutes into the second half. The goal was a sure-fire dagger, the result of a bone-headed play from center back Steve Kingue which allowed NCFC’s Robert Kristo all alone on the net for his second goal on the night.
Most people would assume – and rightfully so – that the second-youngest team in the history of the league, away from home, down 3-1 with less than 45 minutes to play…. would most definitely wilt and head home with a loss.
But not Burke’s group.
“We had guys literally run until they threw up on the field, so I know my guys are working for us,” said Burke. “Just walk away proud. We were lucky to hang on in a couple moments on the defensive side in the second half, but I thought we carried the vast majority of the second half so I felt we were cleaner on the ball. Hard running in the box leads to two of the three goals.”
It’s basically blind faith in the idea of hustle no matter what from Burke’s youngsters. It’s not every day you hear about pro soccer players barfing from working too hard during games. But Burke’s group is different.
“I think what was important to walk away with is that we put so much energy into the game that we had guys throwing up on the field,” said Burke. “That tells you everything you need to know about the energy that was put forth by [Philadelphia Union] Academy players and young pros. We watched a lot of guys grow up tonight a little bit.”
Which brings us to the topic of this piece. Can they grow up fast enough to salvage this season and make a playoff appearance?
With eight games remaining, Steel FC needs to make up ground and quickly. If you base their playoff hopes off of pure effort and grit, then they’d be in that playoff bracket. But sometimes effort alone doesn’t help at a young age.
Consistency is key. Always has been and always will be. But for Burke, he knows the most consistent part of any young players game is their inconsistencies.
The last time Steel FC was able to string back-to-back positive results together came back in early May with a pair of draws to start the month. If the trend continues – winning a game and dropping the next two or three – Steel FC will find themselves far from the playoff picture.
But if the young group bolstered by Chambers’ leadership off and on the pitch can gain momentum from this two-match stretch to start September, that script quickly flips.
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Mandatory Credit: North Carolina FC
Graduate of Pennsylvania State University ’16. Interests include sports and history. Follow on twitter for Philly sports news – @MMcClain_PSN
Philadelphia Union writer.