Ahead of Bethlehem’s match against Harrisburg (or the opposite of that depending on who you are), we thought it would be overkill to write two previews of the same match. Below is a transcript of a conversation that our two USL experts had, but before that, let’s get your details sorted out. Bethlehem are home for this one, so get up to Goodman this Sunday at 5:00 PM if you want to see what should be a physical encounter in person. Can’t make it? No worries, you can watch the stream right here:
Evan Villella (Bethlehem Steel FC correspondent): We can't beat you guys, which sucks because I think Bethlehem is the best club in Pennsylvania (USL at least) on any given day. Thoughts? What do you guys do so well against us?
Chris Bratton (Harrisburg City Islanders correspondent): You know, I was just about to ask you the same thing. I’ve thought about this before, and I can’t say that Harrisburg has one particular characteristic that’s kryptonite for the Bethlehem Steel. Of course, if they did, I’d probably try and keep it a secret.
Is it possible that Bethlehem continues to overlook Harrisburg whenever they play? It does seem like the Steel are usually favored when the play the City Islanders, even when their records are almost the same. The afternoon match at Goodman last year definitely felt like a “trap game” where Bethlehem was looking ahead to their next match only to lose to Harrisburg after giving up one goal on a quick counter.
If you look at the match from April, that was Harrisburg’s best match of the year by far. It was the home opener, and the team had a lot of confidence after beating New York Red Bulls II. I thought Bethlehem would be pumped up for the match too, but they came out really flat. I think that’s what lead to the Steel giving up two goals in the first twenty minutes. They did a great job to come back and tie things up, but the slow start just dug them too big of a hole.
So overall, I’d say it’s more of a mental issue than a physical one. Bethlehem has to start taking Harrisburg seriously because Harrisburg’s going to go all out every time they play the Steel.
EV: I'm sure a lot of people think HCI is just the Aaron Wheeler show - give us a few other names to look out for?
CB: I find that Harrisburg’s offense is more dangerous when Paul Wilson is in the midfield. He’s fast enough to create some space and he’s a strong passer who’s good at finding the open man around the goal. You’ve got to stay on the alert when he’s on the field.
Also watch out for Rasheed Olabiyi. He plays deeper in the midfield, but he has worked his way forward during the last two matches and shown that he can deliver a blistering shot from distance when given the opportunity. Remember Haris Medujanin’s goal against D.C. United? It’s a lot like that.
EV: You guys are coming off a tough 0-0 against the hounds, in which you defended the 2/3rds of the Keystone Cup. I guess summarize that game a little bit (you did a full recap here already) and sort of talk about how that fixture affects this one?
Well there’s the physical aspects to consider. Several City Islanders are out with nagging injuries, and some others were pretty banged up after Wednesday’s match. This will be their third match in eight days, and there’s always a chance that that will have an impact on things.
I think the team is frustrated that they’re putting in strong performances, but they’re not getting the results. They had their chances against Pittsburgh, but they just couldn’t find the winning goal. It wasn’t a “let’s be happy to take a point” type draw, it was more of a “we really should have won” type draw. They’ve got to be concerned with the number of points that they’re missing out on because they have to settle for a draw when a win is within their grasp.
Coming off of a match like that, Harrisburg is going to Bethlehem hungry for a win. They may be on a six match winless streak, but their play has consistently improved over the course of the six matches. If the Steel come out flat again, expect the City Islanders to take advantage.
Sorry about you guys being left out of the Keystone Derby Cup. You’ll have to take it up with the PA Lottery though. I’ll see if I can find you Gus the Groundhog’s phone number.
CB: Harrisburg does seem to have Bethlehem’s number, so what are your thoughts on that? What is it about the City Islanders that makes them so tough to beat?
EV: Yeah, it’s weird right? I think honestly what ends up happening every game is that in the first ten or so minutes while Bethlehem are asleep (which again, only really happens against HCI) Aaron Wheeler gets a goal and then you guys just park the bus. I’ll expand on it a bit later, but I also think Harrisburg has 11 guys that want to beat Bethlehem - which might not always be true for us. Whatever it is, it’s really frustrating.
CB: It has to be tricky to develop chemistry in the starting XI when there’s always a chance that certain players are going to be pulled away by the Philadelphia Union. What impact do you think that has had so far in 2017? It gives you occasional access to talented players like Derrick Jones, but then you lose other players like Adam Najem and Giliano Wijnaldum just as they’re developing a rhythm with their teammates.
EV: Funnily enough, when we played each other last year (May 22nd) we had Fabian Herbers who, yknow, is doing cool MLS things now. We’ve been given a generous amount of players from the first team, which included a rehab stint by Maurice Edu last year, it’s kind of crazy and it totally ruins my perspective on what MLS affiliate teams should be.
That being said, I alluded to it before but I don’t think the guys that come down from the Union care that much about HCI. Our USL guys want to win every game, and I’m sure that the close proximity of the two clubs adds a bit of a special feel, but the MLS guys aren’t with Bethlehem every game. This is a weird thing to put down without the added help of having built in nuance so let me try and explain with a specific player. Let’s say we get Ken Tribbett (pretty likely with Auston Trusty with the United States U20s) this weekend. Tribs was signed initially to Bethlehem last year, but impressed with the first team in preseason so much they gave him a different contract. He knows what the USL is like, but he doesn’t have the benefit that a James Chambers or Josh Heard has in that “we should crush these guys, why don’t we just do it?” mentality. We’ll see what happens this weekend with loans, but that’s my running theory.
CB: Which young players have stood out the most so far this year? Is there anyone you think deserves more playing time?
EV: My one wish that Chris Nanco would start totally already happened which is great. Also we’re incredibly young as it is, so I’d love to see everyone impress. To actually answer your question, Seku Conneh has really flourished this year, becoming a viable goal threat. Marcus Epps hasn’t been around in a week or two but he’s come into his own on the other wing as well. Matt Real and Mark McKenzie have looked better than they should have any right to be for 18 and 19 year old defenders. We also finally saw some Academy influence this week with Dawson McCartney, who has made some big improvements. He’s always had some super charged batteries and a killer left foot, but we’ll see how his Summer playing next to Chambers develops him before he goes off to Dartmouth.