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Bethlehem Steel FC opens preseason with first practice

A mix of players under contract, academy prospects and trialists were in training at YSC Sports on Thursday

Bethlehem Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke talks to his players during practice at YSC Sports on February 2, 2017
Matt Ralph

Year two of Bethlehem Steel FC officially kicked off on Thursday, with the club’s first practice at YSC Sports.

A mixture of players under contract, Philadelphia Union Academy prospects and a group of trialists were on hand for the two-hour practice in the indoor facility near King of Prussia.

“We’re all more comfortable, more well prepared as you would be in the second year of any project,” head coach Brendan Burke said after training.

Among the trialists were former Union Academy and Xavier defender Todd Pratzner, Temple University defender Matt Mahoney, Clemson defender Alex Happi, Reading United and University of Kentucky defender Charlie Reymann and Wilmington University midfielder Juan Bernal.

The group of Academy players included Mark McKenzie, Rayshaun McGann, Josue Monge, Frederick Gil, Freeman Dwamena, Issa Rayyan, Justin McMaster and Jahmali Waite.

“McKenzie and McMaster are a big part of my plans this year,” Brendan said, referring to the Academy duo who were recently in camp with the U.S. U18 team and have committed to playing college soccer this fall at Wake Forest. “Anthony Fontana too, who is with the first team right now.”

All but two of the players under contract were there Thursday. Cory Burke is currently with the Jamaica team and recent signing Santi Moar is with the first team in Florida.

Burke said there are very few spots left to fill on the roster, which is currently two short of the league minimum of 12. In addition to the trialists and Academy players fighting for minutes, Burke will have whichever draft picks end up signing with the organization to consider in shaping his team.

Moar is the only draft pick to sign so far with the organization. The other four picks - Aaron Jones, Marcus Epps, Chris Nanco and Jack Elliott - are still with the first team.

“He’s got a lot of weapons and his biggest weapon is his brain,” Burke said of Moar, a Spaniard who starred at Division 2 Pfeiffer but was scouted by the organization when he played in the PDL playoffs in Reading last summer for Charlotte Eagles.

Among the returners to camp was Union Academy grad Yosef Samuel, who signed with the club late last season.

“For me playing with guys like James who has been playing for over 10 years he can teach me a lot of things, how to see the game from every angle,” Samuel said. “I’m trying to soak it in.”

The regular season doesn’t begin until April 1, but the team does have one preseason date on the calendar so far, a friendly with Junior Lone Star at YSC Sports on Wednesday, February 22.