Bethlehem Steel FC came out in the first half like a team that finally knew they had to play their best soccer of the year and grind out a win against a formidable Charlotte Independence side. Derrick Jones, Josh Yaro, Eric Ayuk, and Auston Trusty all returned from either international or first-team duty and in the first half, it was apparent how much they impact this team. Trusty and Yaro were an effective pairing for the first 45 minutes, and for as much as Charlotte was getting into the 18-yard box, Yaro and Trusty were able to block off six shots (by my count) early on.
The early onslaught was rewarded 22 minutes in as a combination play between Ryan Richter and Leo Fernandes saw the Steel FC captain break down the right side and tee up a ball for Seku Conneh’s sliding shot that beat Independence goalie John Berner as Bethlehem opened the scoring for the day. Steel FC weathered a storm late on by the attacking trio of Caleb Calvert, Brian Brown, and David Estrada and might have been a bit lucky to enter the half up a goal.
Steel FC’s luck didn’t last; in fact it died a horrible death twenty seconds into the second half. Auston Trusty was put in a weird situation, with a back pass that he should have done better with, but didn’t, which allowed Enzo Martinez to take it off his feet and slot past John McCarthy to tie the game at one. That set the tone for a poor second half, with Charlotte dictating tempo and getting the majority of their nine shots in the second half. Their efforts paid off in the 62nd minute when Jun Marques Davidson fired a shot on the half volley that John McCarthy wasn’t going to stop. Charlotte was in the driver’s seat and it was more of the same from Bethlehem on the road trip.
Cory Burke worked hard when he checked in to the game in the 66th minute. His runs had purpose and he was able to win some 50/50 balls against Berner that might have influenced the penalty that Berner gave up in the 87th minute. Ryan Richter stepped up and netted his fifth goal of the season (the new team leader) and the captain tied the game. The game broke wide open after that with both teams having looks at goal but no one converting.
The 2-2 final saw Bethlehem drop to 6-8-8 with a .500 record of 4-4-4 at home. Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke has changed his narrative ever so slightly, with his tone after this match becoming more about the fact that everyone in the Steel FC locker room is a professional soccer player. Sure for some guys (Anthony Fontana and Auston Trusty to a point) the name of the game is player development, but for someone like Ryan Richter, who admitted that he was not exactly the youngest guy, it’s about the results and a playoff run. While I understand the frustration of Richter, it should be a point of personal pride that he’s helped three or four guys get to the Union, and has definitely helped elevate the game of everyone else around him.
Bethlehem head out to Pittsburgh on Sunday at 7:00pm as they try to tame the Riverhounds one more time this year.