“I’m paid to do a job and I’m doing the job,” said James Chambers a few months back after his club publicly recognized him for his efforts both on and off the field. But yesterday afternoon, Bethlehem Steel FC simply sent a routine press release detailing their end-of-roster moves which included the decision to not extend an offer to the out-of-contract 32-year old.
Perhaps Chambers deserved more than just a few words in a generic press release considering just how much time, effort, and passion he’s committed to Steel FC and the Philadelphia Union organization as a whole. So, let’s try to highlight some of his major contributions and why he will remain one of the hardest working players to ever be a part of the franchise.
That ‘job’ Chambers referenced is not your typical pro soccer gig. Normally you sign a contract after agreeing to certain expectations. Meaning you need to score X amount of goals, keep Y amount of clean sheets, play Z amount of minutes while fulfilling a certain role within the group. That’s the standard process. But for Chambers, when he on-boarded with the club back in 2016, his role was drastically different.
At that time, Steel FC was nowhere near as organized as it is currently. Exactly how the organization would fill the roster was a question mark. The Academy was not yet producing enough young talent to fill depth. And the entire project lacked an identity. But Chambers emerged as one of the main pillars of the project.
Chambers and his engaging personality became an immediate leader within the club both on the training grounds and off the pitch. Time and time again, Chambers showcased his ability to be a leader of young men by providing not only a template of how to act like a pro athlete day-to-day but also how to carry yourself outside the white lines.
Despite being the oldest member of the team – and by oldest, think 10+ years older than most – Chambers related to the countless youngsters that have worn the Steel FC kit over his tenure with the club. Players like Brenden Aaronson, Anthony Fontana, Auston Trusty, and Mark McKenzie have all benefited greatly from playing alongside Chambers throughout their development paths. And in every interview with other young players like Zach Zandi, Cole Turner, and Ben Ofeimu – Chambers is mentioned with immense respect and gratitude.
And it’s not only players that commend Chambers for his efforts. Steel FC Head Coach Brendan Burke regularly mentioned Chambers as the key figure for not only the guys in the locker room but for himself and his technical staff as well. The coaching capabilities and resources for Steel FC were limited when they first started the operation. Chambers’ professional soccer experience – several years in his native Ireland – became an integral piece to the coaching puzzle. He became the proverbial ‘player-coach’ without officially being named it.
The unity between the coaching staff and Chambers is perhaps the most admirable aspect of Chambers’ tenure. His ability to be the ‘go-to-guy’ in terms of leadership and team chemistry will not be easy to replace.
Chambers likeability is at the top of the charts. And it’s not hard to figure out why. His breed is a unique one and in the best way possible. If you were lucky enough to catch Chambers play in person at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium, you would know just how lively a player Chambers is when the game is in motion. He’s constantly engaged. Chambers’ voice would echo throughout the grounds, adding an extra layer of entertainment. Whether he’s pointing out where to be and when, shouting at a teammate, reprimanding a referee, or jeering an opponent – Chambers’ passion was unmatched.
This past season he was tasked with helping develop the youngest roster ever assembled – routinely showcasing 16 and 17-year-old Academy players all season long. The change to a younger roster forced Chambers to quickly learn how to manage various personalities. He explained not every player responds well to certain criticisms. Some guys need an arm around a shoulder while others need tough love. But Chambers took the time to learn the ins and outs of his teammates, which is a coveted intangible any organization would cherish.
But where Chambers also thrives – and perhaps were his passion and knowledge of the game may excel even more – is on the sidelines with a whistle and a clipboard.
Chambers’ playing days may be over, but his coaching days have just begun. He’s been a regular face within both the Union Juniors and Academy systems – coaching regularly and growing a real love for teaching the game to youngsters. Over the past few years, Chambers has slowly increased his role within the coaching ranks. In our last interview with Chambers, he mentioned easily seeing himself transition into a more involved coaching role, perhaps making a new career out of it down the line.
For now, the Union organization would be very lucky to keep Chambers around as a coach. If I were signing my kid up for soccer, I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather have coaching. So here’s to James ‘Chambo’ Chambers, THE captain on an admirable professional soccer career and a thank you for ending it with Philadelphia.
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Mandatory Credit: Bethlehem Steel FC