Windy conditions didn't help, but ultimately Bethlehem had their inaugural home opener ruined by FC Cincinnati 2-1 on Sunday afternoon. In a match that saw a little bit of everything we'll start by breaking down the first half.
The first half was a tricky one. Early on it looked promising for Brendan Burke's side. Debutante Gabe Gissie played pretty well up top, narrowly missing a few key chances early on and just failing to put a great Ryan Richter cross to bed. The high pressure seemingly was going to break the Cincy defense until the one pitfall of a high press game exposed itself and Andrew Wiedeman netted a goal on a great set up from Kenny Walker. Just about ten minutes later Sean Okoli had a great one-two series with Wiedeman and the Washington native buried an easy chance off some great footwork. Cincy had a good bit of momentum coming into the match despite the heartbreaker they lost to Charleston last week with the return of Harrison Delbridge. The Aussie was rock solid at center back for the orange and blue, really preventing any chance of the crosses from Ryan Richter or Taylor Washington from finding their mark.
Academy stand out Derrick Jones got his first taste of professional soccer and he fared decently. Obviously missing a week with some visa issues doesn't help one get acclimated to a new setting and it sort of showed. That dominant midfield pairing we saw of Chambers, Akinyode, and Fernandes wasn't quite replicated against a smaller FC Cincinnati team and Steel coach Brendan Burke said post game he wanted his team to be more dominant in the midfield.
The second half saw a couple of really good changes for the home side. James Chambers came on for Derrick Jones and asserted himself as a presence better than Jones did. I think Jones will learn a lot from playing with the seasoned Irishman and it should serve both of them well to log serious minutes together. The other big standout sub for the Steel was Seku Conneh. Fresh off a stint with the Liberian national team, Conneh was the first sustained threat to the FC Cincy defense. Every touch he had was relatively important and if it wasn't for some key Mitch Hildebrandt saves Steel might have found a goal to make it 2-1 earlier.
Steel did find the goal, though. Eric Ayuk scored to make it 2-1 right at the end of the 90 minutes. Five minutes of stoppage time were added thanks to a bit of an altercation between Antoine Hoppenot and Bolu Akinyode that saw both players pick up a yellow, the second for Akinyode. Bethlehem went down to 10 men with about 10 minutes to play. Akinyode will miss the next fixture against his former organization, New York Red Bulls 2. Steel threatened to get an equalizer after a foul against Seku Conneh set up a great chance that Ryan Richter clattered off the post. A few more missed chances and key blocks by the FC Cincy defense saw the visitors leave Bethlehem with a win.
Some other notes and observations:
-Josh Yaro is the real deal. I'm not sure if he can play CB at the MLS level, but he can spring a counter like it's nothing.
-Ryan Richter is a name you're going to want to see before he gets minutes with the first team late this year/next year. Absolutely phenomenal so far in the USL.
-Brendan Burke said he's giving Seku Conneh more minutes next week, whether that's starting or as a back up (he only played about half an hour) is yet to be seen, but he definitely deserved it.
-3655 was the official attendance number for the game today. Given the weather conditions, that is undeniably awesome. So were the bagpipes. Five Moravian stars out of five to everyone who attended!
Next week is a big organizational rivalry as Bethlehem makes their first trip to Red Bull Arena April 10th at 7:30 pm! As always that match will stream live on YouTube on the USL's official page.