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Steel vs Louisville: Better than your best

Both teams coming in red-hot for a big Eastern Conference matchup

Pat Jacoby Photography Pat Jacoby Photography

Bethlehem Steel look to finally grab three points against reigning and defending USL Champions Louisville City Saturday from Goodman Stadium. The series sits at four losses and two draws in six meetings for Bethlehem, with the Union affiliates grabbing a draw in the home fixture last year. Louisville are flying right now after grabbing a win over the New England Revolution in the Open Cup and Bethlehem have shown some real grit recently themselves bagging two big wins on the road against Indy XI and North Carolina FC.

How Louisville will look:
Welcome to my bi-annual gushing about LouCity post. I really think the only thing this organization does wrong is play their home matches on a poor field for soccer. Coach James O’Connor has a vision, knows who he wants to execute that vision, then they just kind of go out and do that. The results? Seven wins, one draw and two losses in 10 games, and those two games in hand on everyone else probably mean they’ll be just fine to reclaim their top spot in the East this summer at some point.
After winning the league last year, one would assume that some MLS clubs or maybe even Cincinnati FC would’ve come in and poached some big players from them. Somewhat surprisingly, LouCity kept 16 of their 20 players from that 2017 championship side. Cameron Lancaster leads up front with Speedy Williams and Oscar Jimenez looking to burn teams with pace in the midfield. Defensively, their three center backs in Paco Craig, Sean Totsch, and Pat McMahon have been rock-solid, only allowing seven goals in ten games. Consistency has been one of LCFC’s strong points but with some probably tired legs after a difficult win on Tuesday, will O’Connor have to go to his (admittedly deep) bench for a guy like Luke Spencer or Magnus Rasmussen?

How Steel will look:
Sure, the veteran savvy and playmaking of James Chambers has been a welcome addition to the side in recent weeks but Santi Moar is playing out of his mind. Following his big 2017, Moar has proved his weight in steel, with a team high seven points as well as two Team of the Week honors. Has he been the be-all and end-all for production this year? Not at all, but life seems to be easier for Bethlehem when Santi is on his game.
Interestingly enough, Bethlehem have also seemingly gotten away from the previous years of hucking balls into a target man who corrals anything in the air and dumps it off to the winger. Aidan Apodaca is incredibly strong and very much capable of hold-up play, but at a listed height of 5’9” he isn’t winning those aerial duels. What that means is that Steel have been able to use pace this year to be more incisive. Michee Ngalina and Prosper Chiluya are two of the fastest players in the country and while they aren’t quite as fast, Fabian Herbers and Marcus Epps have shown incisive playmaking and dribbling skills work just as well. Speaking of Ngalina, he did get a first team appearance against Richmond for the Union and all of the Homegrown kids got on the field, so there’s a slim chance we see some rotation tonight.

In order to beat Louisville, Bethlehem Steel FC will have to be better than their best so far, if not better than they’ve ever been. That’s a difficult ask, but not something that’s unreasonable to think about. Besides, Brendan Burke put it best in his presser this week:

I think the urgency is something we are trying to instill into the guys week to week.. and if they can’t get up for the top team in the league that just beat an MLS opponent last (Tuesday) night, then what would you get up for?

Prediction: Steel grab a 2-2 draw.