Following along on Twitter and just sort of being around (and I guess a part of) the Union fan base recently has been a slog for most people, myself included. To the point where we are where we usually seem to be, which is in a perpetual state of “I won’t renew my season tickets” or “hey our owner sucks.” which are both valid and understandable. That being said, in lieu of a proper preview and before I try and sum up where Bethlehem are in the USL standings sometime soon (I’m waiting on my resident stat guy to help me out) let me just pitch you Steel FC.
Evan, it’s still the same owner, who cares?
Yeah, I don’t really get it either. I think with the idea that Bethlehem aren’t in the business of making money (I’ll give you a second to make a Sugarman jab) helps out with this one. It’s a smartly composed roster, with USL defender of the year Hugh Roberts, James Chambers and Jamaican International Cory Burke being the three names to look out for. They have a tactically sound coach in Brendan Burke (no relation to Cory) who seems to understand the 4-5-1/4-3-3 the organization likes to play but isn’t afraid to use his bench to try and make an impact and switch things up. They play in another pretty stadium in Murray H Goodman field, and if you can get past the gridiron lines that pop up in the fall, it’s a really intimate place to catch a game. Also you’re close enough to hear a good amount of profanity/tactics from both sides.
Okay, I don’t want to put any amount of effort into another team though.
Totally fair. The only thing I can point to on that one is for the “why don’t we play the kids?” crowd. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Derrick Jones, Auston Trusty, Anthony Fontana, Adam Najem or even fringe-y talents like Aaron Jones (also no relation) and Hugh Roberts, Steel FC are where these guys are cutting their teeth. Brendan Burke has developed (quietly, at that) a reputation as a great coach for nurturing young talent. He’s gotten Derrick Jones to look solid in action for the first team, has helped Trusty develop into a legitimate USMNT threat and has even sharpened some offensive weapons in Union loanee Chris Nanco and FC Oss project Seku Conneh. On top of that we’ve seen Tiger Graham, Brendan Aaronsen, Mark McKenzie, Tomas Romero and Josue Monge all make appearances from the academy this year. No this isn’t exactly Toronto FC we’re playing here, but a tricky away match against in-state rival Pittsbugh and the next two games against Florida based Orlando City B (who sadly aren’t called the Cubs) and the Tampa Bay Rowdies are a good mix of what makes USL intriguing.
So we’re a giant scouting project? That doesn’t sound fun.
Last year wasn’t. Steel shipped out three of their best players in Ryan Richter, Bolu Akinyode and Mickey Daly (member those guys?) to the New York Cosmos and North Carolina FC (then the RailHawks) towards the end of the season. Between losing three big pieces and having some, uh, poor goalkeeping and even worse finishing, Steel didn’t get a point in the last month or so and missed the playoffs, a bitter pill to swallow given the top eight teams in each conference make it in.
All that to say this year as a whole has been a different beast. Steel control their own destiny again this year, but currently occupy seventh place. I know you’re probably thinking “hey, you’re gonna bottle that playoff spot right?” and to be totally honest, I’m not incredibly sure. The good news is that we have a game in hand on everyone around us. This weekend against Pittsburgh is that game. If we can get at least a point there (the Hounds are tricky at home.) we’ll be back in sixth. Winning puts us all the way up at five. At the very very bare minimum, the team hasn’t looked largely outclassed this year by everyone they come up against.
I know y’all don’t want someone to try and get you to give anything related to this organization another shot. And if this comes off as me glad-handing or rubbing the team in your face (which I run the risk of doing) that’s fine by me. Honestly if you think I’m a horrible person and am “part of the problem” for writing this, that’s also fine, thanks for reading anyway. Which also might come out wrong but I never thought this would become anything, let alone me rambling late at night after another stomach churning Union loss.
But uh, if nothing else, come watch (or stream on YouTube) some lower level soccer and maybe get a little excited by a playoff race?