What a year it has been. In a season of twists and turns, hot and cold runs, and a few surprising season series wins, Bethlehem Steel FC are three points away from the USL playoffs. They just have to get past a pretty cohesive Rochester side.
After a solid and really entertaining throttling of a struggling Toronto FC II side, Bethlehem just need another similar performance against Rochester, who are also practically a lock for the playoffs this year. Beating the Rhinos hasn’t been easy for anyone, especially in New York. Getting three points from the Rhinos is something Steel have never done. Last year the clubs drew twice in two meetings, and in the opener this season Jochen Graf stole the winner for the former New England Revolution affiliate side. That being said, what a difference a year makes.
In April this side had guys like Giliano Wijnaldum playing left back, with potential future stars Derrick Jones and Adam Najem looking ok in their roles. Chris Nanco and Santi Moar were coming in off the bench for cameo appearances and nothing else. Cory Burke was consistent but mostly cold, not really thriving with hold up play like he could have. Seku Conneh was battling leg knock after leg knock. Matt Real was way far off from getting USMNT camp call ups and Aaron Jones was still just the football player that got drafted by the Green Bay Packers.
Now? Jokes aside, Aaron has been arguably MLS starter caliber. Adam has exploded with some intricate passing, smart decision making and the ability to set up anyone at any time. Derrick got a goal this weekend, and looks close enough to the destroyer we have seen in the past year or so that makes him a must watch prospect. Cory got his swagger back during the Pittsburgh game, and Seku has taken on a role as opportunist to the tune of a club record 10 goals this year. Santi scores when he wants, and I still think Nanco is grossly underrated. I didn’t even mention half the people I want to, but I’m saving that for my end of the year recaps.
To continue beating a dead horse, this isn’t last year’s Bethlehem Steel FC. This isn’t the team that didn’t get a win for eleven weeks, this is the team that gets into one of the eight most coveted spots in the league with three points tomorrow night. This is a club I’m personally proud of. Fending off Wal Fall and Jochen Graf isn’t easy, and I’m very wary of what Rhinos coach Bob Lilley is capable of. They play compact soccer, they play smart soccer, and every game against Rochester is a physical battle. (Warning: it’s cliche time). Every game in general is a battle, every month is a war and every season is a chance to go out and write your destiny. So sure, if Bethlehem don’t win they just have to hope for an Orlando City B slip up against Tampa Bay, but what’s the point in talking about controlling your destiny if you don’t do it? Why wait for Thursday when you can be in the playoffs tomorrow night? I have confidence in this soccer club, they’ve earned this moment, now they just have to go take it.