An exciting 5-2 win at home for Bethlehem Steel FC allowed them to leap-frog Loudon United FC, beating them on the pitch and in the Eastern Conference playoff race in the process. Goals from James Chambers, Zach Zandi, Issa Rayyan, Michee Ngalina, and Axel Picazo powered the W.
Steel FC could not have started last night’s match any worse. In what was clearly a must-win affair for both sides, Loudoun United FC came out swinging with heavy blows early on.
Just a little over a minute into the match, Loudoun scored a shocking goal. Gordon Wild netted his sixth goal of the year and in doing so, placed Steel FC on their heels.
“We talked in the huddle about starting the game right and then we started it atrociously, we really did,” said team captain James Chambers post-match. “We started it so sloppy, terrible. We didn’t touch the ball and then [Loudoun United FC] scored a goal.”
But Steel FC did, in fact, bounce back. The following 30 minutes of play surely did not resemble a lob-sided contest in favor of Loudoun. The opposite actually. The possession statistics may not have swung fully Steel FC’s way throughout the first half, but they managed to create a handful of half-chances which ultimately shifted the momentum.
Chambers netted a 35th-minute equalizer after a brilliant sequence from Issa Rayyan in the box. Cole Turner, filling in at center back for the injured Steve Kingue, forced a turnover in the attacking half which helped spring Steel FC forward. Turner found Rayyan who beat his man inside the box before centering a pass. Turner flicked it on with a back-heel and Chambers was there to bury it home.
“I’m just in the right place at right time,” said Chambers. “I think it starts with Cole [Turner] stepping in and I’m possession defend and on the front foot. He steps in and he keeps the ball in their half for us and then he plays it to Issa [Rayyan]. Issa does well to get his cross in and then Cole and I are in the box, so it was a tap in for me, but you got to be there to miss them. It comes down to Cole who kept the play alive, probably about 25-30 seconds before that.”
Moments before the half-time whistle, Steel FC surrendered a deflating blow, allowing a goal off a corner kick to Loudoun’s Kyle Murphy. Steel FC center back Ben Ofeimu ended up lost inside the box on the corner kick attempt which left Murphy all alone and as a result, was able to create enough power on the uncontested header to beat keeper Todd Morton.
The goal moments after getting back into the game was “criminal” according to Chambers.
But the second half portrayed an entirely different match.
“We talked at halftime about just being more aggressive with our starting positions and I think the guys responded really well,” said Steel FC Head Coach Brendan Burke. “The energy levels were great in the second half and they got their reward. The players, there were more than four or five players that played really well in the second half.”
The goals came in bunches for Steel FC in the second half. It started with Zach Zandi’s curling goal in the 47th minute thanks to some great vision and skill from Faris on the assist. Two minutes later, Issa Rayyan curled one into the back of the net from atop the box thanks to an assist from Chambers.
Zandi netted his third goal on the year while Rayyan snagged his fourth. Chambers earned his third assist while Faris recorded his first helper on the year.
With a 3-2 lead five minutes into the second half, Steel FC began to manage the game by controlling the tempo and maintaining the upper hand in the run of play.
Michee Ngalina joined to scoring party with his sixth goal on the season. Ngalina, always the most dangerous player on the pitch for Steel FC, danced around Loudoun keeper Earl Edwards before releasing a right-footed shot for the 80th-minute goal.
Zandi earned his team-leading sixth assist with a long through ball which allowed Ngalina the time and space behind Loudoun’s back-line.
Union Academy player Axel Picazo finished the scoring with a penalty kick conversion which he created after drawing a foul inside the box during the 89th minute.
Picazo took the penalty and scored his first professional goal. “I just heard [James Chambers] our captain say “Axel you take it”, so that gave me the confidence to step up and score,” said Picazo.
The exciting offensive explosion could hopefully propel Steel FC further forward as they buckle-down in hopes of earning a playoff spot. Their next match is Saturday night at Tampa Bay Rowdies, one of the better teams in the league. For now, the youth-filled roster will hope to feed off the positives with just six matches remaining.
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Mandatory Credit: Bethlehem Steel FC.