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Villanova outplay Bethlehem Steel FC in 3-2 win

Philadelphia Union Academy grad Zach Zandi led the Wildcats to the 3-2 win Wednesday afternoon

Matt Ralph

Villanova snagged a rare win for a college program over a USL team on Wednesday behind a sparkling performance from senior captain Zach Zandi.

Zandi, a Philadelphia Union Academy grad who trained with Steel FC last summer while with Reading United, gave the Wildcats an early lead when he got on the end of a ball in the box and beat former teammate Will Steiner in the 21st minute. Steiner was brought in as a guest player for the match because Keasel Broome, who played in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Syracuse as a guest player, was unavailable.

“I obviously rubbed it in a little bit,” Zandi said about scoring on his former teammate. “It was a good first spring game, it’s good to get out there and play our first game in three or four months, especially since it was against the Steel it’s a great opportunity to showcase myself for the staff and hopefully I can get in a lot with them over the summer and do well.”

Zandi’s goal came after a sustained period of possession where the playmaker was finding space and combining well with winger Theo Quartey to put pressure on the Steel back line.

Despite not playing their best soccer, the visitors did get on the board 10 minutes before halftime when a long cross from Chris Nanco found the head of AJ Paterson at the far post. The goal was the first in a Steel uniform for Paterson, who signed a USL contract last week.

Steiner, who practiced with the Wildcats on Tuesday, made five saves in the game but was unable to do something he had a knack for over his successful college career: stop a penalty kick. Yusuf Cueceoglu converted from the spot in the 54th minute to make it 2-1. Vince Manson, who redshirted in his first season with the Wildcats, made it 3-1 seven minutes later with a strike off a counter attack.

As time was running out, Aidan Apodaca found the back of the net to make the final score 3-2. It was the reigning NCAA Division 2 scoring champ’s team-leading third goal of the preseason.

While the goal — set up by trialist left back Mickey George — was further proof of the recently signed Apodaca’s finishing skills, it capped a less than stellar display that was far from what head coach Brendan Burke was looking for out of a lineup featuring a mix of trialists, signed players and Marcus Epps from the first team but no academy prospects because of NCAA restrictions.

“I thought Villanova were really energetic, connected well and played good soccer and we were the exact opposite for most of the game, which will help shape decisions on trialists,” Burke said after the match.

By contrast, Villanova head coach Tom Carlin saw a lot he liked out of his group in their first game since a disappointing 7-10-0 regular season campaign came to a close in November.

“I just liked the way we played together; we played hard for each other,” Carlin said. “We’re hungry right now, we have a little bit to prove and we had some guys out there who have been having good springs so far and did a really good job.”

The Wildcats next spring match on March 24 is against a Syracuse team that lost 2-0 to the Steel last weekend. The Steel return to the field at the Power Training Complex this Sunday in a 2 p.m. exhibition against in-state USL rival Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

Bethlehem Steel FC Lineup
Will Steiner**; Mickey George*, Brandon Aubrey, Matthew Mahoney, Sam Wancowicz*; AJ Paterson, Mike Catalano^ (Messam* 45’); Chris Nanco (Sebastein Perquy* 59’), Gregory Messam Jr.* (Audi Jepson* 20’), Marcus Epps; Brandon Allen (Aidan Apodaca^ 45’).

* Trialist
** Guest Player
^ Union SuperDraft pick

Villanova Lineup
Carson Williams (Carson Hunt 77’); Richie Schlentz, Nikkye DePoint, Luca Mellor, Shane Bradley; Conor Bradley, Zach Zandi, Yusuf Cueceoglu, Theo Quartey; Jack Gilliam, Vince Manzo. Substitutes used: David Bettenhausen, Sean Teixeira, Max Zandi, Kian Zapata