Clinical finishing from Louisville City forwards Cameron Lancaster and Ilija Ilic built a three-goal lead inside 23 minutes for the defending USL Cup Champions that proved insurmountable for Bethlehem Steel FC in a 3-1 loss on Saturday.
Returning to the Derby City for the first time since losing to the eventual champions 4-0 in a first round playoff game last fall, a Steel starting XI featuring recent first team signing Olivier Mbaizo’s debut came out looking strong. The Steel high press led to a couple dangerous turnovers early that Brandon Allen and Adam Najem were unable to turn into goals.
Missed opportunities would come back to bite the visitors when Lancaster got a rebound off his own blocked shot in the 13th minute and beat Steel goalkeeper Jake McGuire with a left-footed shot that took a deflection before squeaking through at the near post. Four minutes later, Kyle Smith floated a pass into the box that Ilic got to with a sliding effort to beat McGuire to double the lead.
Ilic was the provider just five minutes later when he found some space down the right flank and squared the ball to Lancaster, who took a touch and hesitated slightly to get his defender off balance before beating McGuire to the far post with a right-footed shot. Lancaster nearly completed a hat trick minutes later when he fired off another shot in traffic inside the box, but his attempt was inches wide of the far post.
The Steel would pull a goal back before halftime on a lovely turn and strike from Marcus Epps, who was set up by Mike Catalano’s team-leading second assist of the season. The goal was the second for Epps in a Steel uniform.
Epps was one of five Philadelphia Union players to see the field in the match on a night that also marked the USL debut for a recent Steel signing, 18-year-old winger Michee Ngalina, who came in for Santi Moar in the 67th minute. Joining Epps from the first team were Najem, Mbaizo, McGuire and Derrick Jones, who wore the captain’s armband for the first time, making him the eighth Steel player to do so. Eric Ayuk was an unused substitute.
The second half saw plenty of opportunities for both teams — a combined 17 shots were taken in the final 45 minutes — but neither side was able to produce another breakthrough and the Steel saw their winless streak stretch to five games. Substitutes Chris Nanco and Aidan Apodaca came closest for the Steel with a chance in the 85th minute that was denied by Louisville City goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh.
Returning home, the Steel will look to bust out of their slump Sunday against the only team they’ve beaten this season: the Richmond Kickers, which fell 4-1 to the Steel at Goodman Stadium on opening weekend.
Saves: 5-2 (Louisville)
LOU – 13’ Cameron Lancaster
LOU – 17’ Ilija Ilic (Kyle Smith)
LOU – 22’ Cameron Lancaster (Ilija Ilic)
BST – 44’ Marcus Epps (Mike Catalano)
BETHLEHEM STEEL FC STARTING XI
Jake McGuire; Prosper Chiluya, Brandon Aubrey, Matt Mahoney, Olivier Mbaizo; Derrick Jones, Mike Catalano; Santi Moar (Michee Ngalina 67’), Adam Najem (Chris Nanco 71’), Marcus Epps; Brandon Allen (Aidan Apodaca 74’).