Match: Bethlehem Steel FC vs Richmond Kickers
Date/Time: Sunday, March 18, 2 p.m. EST kickoff
Stream: Youtube, right here.
Steel all-time vs Richmond (W-L-D): 1-1-2
Now that that’s out of the way, this year I’m going to take a look at three story lines to watch for before each Bethlehem Steel game. It’ll hopefully keep me a bit more on task, it’ll simplify things for you all and I hope it’ll lead to good discussion on Twitter or in the comments below. Let’s get to it.
Home is where the points are
Bethlehem Steel have four points out of a possible six in matchups against Richmond in the Lehigh Valley. Looking back to April of 2016 they won a close 2-1 affair and in July of last year the game finished all square at 1-1. Draws are fine but especially before a big road game to Tampa Bay, Bethlehem should be looking to grab three points out of Richmond here. Early season points are vital in USL, certainly in what promises to be the most congested Eastern Conference we’ve ever seen, so picking up early wins against good competition at home is crucial for Bethlehem.
Goals have been optional
Historically this hasn’t been a fixture full of shootouts. Richmond is known (or has been known at least) for sitting back and playing out 1-0 wins or 2-1 wins in a very Lilley-ball USL 1.0 kind of way. Resulting from this Bethlehem’s leading scorer against Richmond is, well, technically Brandon Allen. The other Steel guys who have scored against Richmond have been Derrick Jones, Aaron Jones, and Ken Tribbett. Derrick probably won’t play in this match, Aaron is helping college grads find pro teams in some capacity, and Ken is with Penn FC. Bethlehem will probably need to score twice here to get three points, but I would be cautious about banking on a Brandon Allen brace. I think they’ll need someone to step up to get a goal and honestly the loaned in firepower of an Adam Najem or Marcus Epps could be what Steel FC need for a 2-1 victory this weekend.
Richmond got better—then they got Dane Kelly
I’ll be honest here, I wasn’t too afraid of Richmond heading into this season. Sure they have improved, every team in the East has. Meikeil Williams was a good get and Giuseppe Gentile’s reputation is one of a playmaker who at times put Puerto Rico FC on his back during the NASL season. Richmond went from a tough team to play at City Stadium to a tough team to play in general. Then DC United announced that they were loaning down GK Travis Worra as well as forwards Bruno Miranda and reigning 2017 USL Golden Boot winner Dane Kelly to the Kickers. The solid defensive team grabs literally the best goal scorer in USL history pretty much out of nowhere. If Bethlehem have plans to get much out of this game, Brendan Burke is going to almost need to tell Brandon Aubrey to lean on Kelly for 90 minutes and win any ball that comes within knock down distance. Otherwise, you’ll see more of this on Sunday
I don’t think Kelly has been with Richmond all that long, and despite having Gentile to feed him balls, I don’t think Richmond are on the same level as 2017 Reno in terms of producing balls for Kelly to lash at. Couple that with a bit of home field advantage and a big desire to make a statement and I’ll take Bethlehem here, 3-2.