For the first time in club history, Bethlehem Steel FC is heading to the second round of the playoffs after advancing on PKs past the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday night.
Appearing in the club’s second playoff game, the Steel fell behind twice, the first time in the 25th minute and the second time on a goal by former player Hugh Roberts in extra time.
Michee Ngalina tied the game in the 70th minute off assists from Santi Moar and Chris Nanco and James Chambers’ 109th minute goal off a free kick just outside the top of the box sent the game to penalties, where the Steel were a perfect 8-for-8 in a 8-7 shootout victory.
“We just didn’t go away, the guys fought back and clawed their way back into the game twice,” Bethlehem Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke said. “I’m at a loss for words right now, it’s a really special day for us.”
Burke’s starting XI featured six teenagers and four players from the current first team roster. Jake McGuire started in goal, Matt Real at left back, Olivier Mbaizo at right back and Anthony Fontana in the midfield. Academy amateur Ben Ofeimu got the start at center back and 17-year-old Brenden Aaronson got the nod spearheading the attack, which struggled at times against a Pittsburgh defense that allowed the fewest goals in the league this season.
“Had a couple shaky moments as you always do in these type of games but the reality is that we’re one of the youngest teams to ever do this and I couldn’t be more proud of the growth of our young players,” Burke said.
Former Philadelphia Union draft pick Raymond Lee missed the decisive penalty kick in the eighth round after Chambers, Nanco, Omar Holness, Moar, Drew Skundrich, Matt Mahoney, Real and Mbaizo had put on a clinic converting their penalties in succession. McGuire had guessed the right direction, but Lee sent the ball wide left to set off a celebration for the visitors unlike any other they’ve had in their three-year history.
A rematch from last year’s opening round playoff loss awaits next Saturday for the Steel at Louisville City on Saturday night. Kickoff from Slugger Stadium is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The winner will get the winner of FC Cincinnati and New York Red Bulls II in the Eastern Conference final.