Well, it’s been a season of surprises, hasn’t it? After starting out with a 3-1 blasting of the Harrisburg City Islanders, Bethlehem Steel FC went on a tear in June. That tear included a three game winning streak on that road that included a 2-0 win against New York Red Bulls II. Of course, after a dominant performance from former Red Bulls player Adam Najem, there’s no way that Steel could play matador twice in a month right?
Oh, huh. Adam Najem slips Chris Nanco on the counter attack after a nifty one-two and Steel go up 1-0 early on. Chris was feasting on the slow center back pairing of Tim Schmoll and Hassan Ndam (mostly Schmoll) in the opening frame, but surely with Brandon Allen, Derrick Etienne Jr and Vincent Bezecourt, there’s no way RB II wouldn’t find a goal here.
Fabian Herbers gets his in what should be rehab game two of two in Bethlehem. Santi Moar had a ball wide and was able to outrun a Baby Bull before cutting back to an admittedly fired up Herbers who notches his third goal all time for BSFC. Honestly, that’s just kind of how this ended. The second half wasn’t as electric as the first and it really had no reason to be. There was the usual couple of collective “meetings” between a few players after some challenges but Brendan Burke’s side clearly wanted it and deserved it more than John Wolyniec’s.
Speaking of Red Bulls II, watch back their passing in the first half if you haven’t. Actually, watch the build up to a lot of Steel’s chances early on. There’s a lot of poor decision making in the usually mechanical build up play for the Red Bulls. Not that they didn’t get chances, but after the game John Wolyniec (in an understandably brief and very hush toned press conference) wasn’t happy with his team getting out-pressed by Steel FC. Yes, the New York Red Bulls organization with their trademark incredibly fast, very slick, high press got out Red Bulled.
So what does this mean for Steel FC? This coming Saturday (7/15) they are in Goodman playing the Pittsburgh Riverhounds for the first time this season. Currently Bethlehem sit comfortably in fifth place in the East, with 26 points on the year and a +5 goal differential. Where this gets really interesting is Bethlehem are sandwiched in the standings between FC Cincinnati (24 points/+2 GD) and Tampa Bay Rowdies (27 points/+6 GD). This is crazy for two reasons. One, those are honest to god two teams that everyone had stomping the entire league at the beginning of the season, and for Bethlehem to be right in the pack with them is the easiest way I can show casual fans and Union-only types how much this side has improved from year one to year two. Secondly, Cincy and Tampa have both played 18 games in the USL regular season this year. Bethlehem have only played 16. It’s uncharted territory for Bethlehem for sure, but after interacting with some of the guys and just being around the locker room after another big win on a rival, it doesn’t feel undeserved.
-It’s really difficult to explain how big it is to have a keeper like Jake McGuire in net most weeks for Steel. After the revolving door last year, to have a guy who can keep clean sheets and make big saves like Jake back there, let’s not discredit him in this streak.
-Chris Nanco, for what my opinion is worth, looked more dangerous than ever last night. He provides a vastly different look compared to the target-based Seku Conneh and Cory Burke and it has definitely paid off so far.
-By committee, there’s not a more exciting back line in USL right now. Eugene talked a bit about Giliano Wijnaldum and his upward rise here, but let me tell you, Aaron Jones, Auston Trusty, Matt Real, and Hugh Roberts (last night Ken Tribbett) have been so solid. For all the talk about depth in the organization, it really shows itself in the defensive side of things.
Bethlehem take on Pittsburgh this Saturday in the first of a three game set against the Hounds. Keep it here for all your analysis of that one later this week.