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2017 Season Preview: Bethlehem Steel FC

After a rocky first year, the second should be much improved for Steel FC

Matt Ralph

Bethlehem Steel FC

Founded: 2016

Affiliation: Philadelphia Union

2016 Record (W-D-L): (6-10-14) Good for 11th in the East; did not qualify for playoffs

Key additions: Hugh Roberts, Matt Real, Chris Nanco

Key departures: Derrick Jones, Bolu Akinyode, Ryan Richter

Ideal XI: McGuire-Real,McKenzie,Roberts,Jones-Nanco(LM)-Chambers(CM)-Moar(CAM)-Najem(CM)-Epps(RM)

2016 in review: From a results standpoint, 2016 was about as pedestrian as it gets for Steel FC. Struggles with identity (Steel played 28 or so different starting XI’s in 30 games) as well as a few midseason departures saw Bethlehem burn out of the season, finishing 11th in the East. Not only was the lineup inconsistent, the goals were lacking with the attack only grabbing 32 and the defense giving up 43. To make matters worse, Steel FC could’ve made the playoffs by getting a draw or better in the last week of the season against Orlando City B but came up short in that endeavor too.

For all of the struggles, there were a few positives. Bethlehem was a proving ground for the future of the Union. Derrick Jones was a force in USL last year, muscling off just about anyone that wanted the ball and tallying 4 goals from a center midfield position. Auston Trusty made some noise in other ways, becoming a bright spot in an otherwise porous defense domestically before making a few appearances with the U.S. U20 team that won the first CONCACAF U20 championship. If you’re looking for entertaining USL guys, James Chambers is one of my favorites, being one of the nicest guys off the field and one of the most passionate on it.

Why you should care: If you like to be on the inside track in terms of up and coming players, this is the team and really the league for you. Union Academy alums Matt Real and Yosef Samuel should all feature in a large capacity. Current Academy prospects Anthony Fontana, Josue Monge, Matt Freese, Issa Rayyan and Mark McKenzie should also see minutes for a much younger Steel FC side.

Pretty much every Union draft pick has seen time with Steel FC this preseason as well as Houston Dynamo selection Jake McGuire, who signed a first-team contract earlier this month. Elsewhere, former Red Bull Academy standout Adam Najem has potential to be one of the most dangerous players with the ball at his feet anywhere from 25 yards out.

Players to watch:

James Chambers: The grizzled veteran of the team as well as the captain, Chambers relishes in the opportunity to show the young kids how to be a professional as well as teach them a few things on the pitch. He loves this team and this city as much as he hates losing.

Chris Nanco: Philadelphia’s third round pick and a player who could have gone much earlier. The Ontario native cut his teeth playing for the University of Syracuse and has the perfect blend of speed and skill. He might have been the best value for pick in the Superdraft and hopefully he’ll make everyone painfully aware of that for BSFC.

Hugh Roberts: The only non-Red Bull II defender to make the USL’s Team of the Year. Hugh had a coming out party in Richmond last year, playing every minute of the season and being a rock at the back for a stingy Kickers defense. If Bethlehem want to cut down on goals conceded (spoiler: they do) Hugh is going to be the key addition.

2017 Will Be Successful If: Steel FC find goals from somewhere. Jamaican International Cory Burke needs to find the form domestically that he’s shown for his country. On the other end of things, good goalkeeping and a consistent backline should help this team immensely.

Bethlehem Steel FC open the season April 1st at Goodman Stadium (Lehigh University) against the Rochester Rhinos. Find the rest of their season dates below!

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