Down 1-0 on the road late, Bethlehem Steel FC turned to their two youngest players on the field to grab a pair of goals and all three points in North Carolina on Saturday night.
Ben Ofeimu, a 17-year-old center back from Michigan, started the comeback when he was able to settle a pass from Santi Moar in the box and get his shot through traffic into the back of the net in the 83rd minute.
The goal was the first by a player on an amateur academy deal and came on a night that Ofeimu became the 17th player to debut for the Steel while still in the academy. (Academy grads Derrick Jones and Yosef Samuel had already signed professional contracts when they made their debuts).
Two minutes after Ofeimu’s equalizer, Moar was again the provider when he ran onto a long pass from Jame Chambers and fed a perfectly placed ball to the far post for 18-year-old Michee Ngalina to tap in for his second career goal.
“I’m just proud of the fight,” head coach Brendan Burke said. “I mean, our goal scorers tonight were 17 and 18 years old, respectively. One was an academy player playing his very first pro game, and he stood up tall as a center back, which is hard to do in a two-forward system when you got two guys in Rios and Ewolo. Even when Lomis comes on, you got guys who are scoring goals in this league at a great rate. So, happy for the kid, happy for Ben.”
North Carolina FC opened the scoring in the 16th minute when midfielder Kyle Bekker connected with defender Peabo Doue off a set piece. The home side continued to outplay the Steel for much of the first half and for the second week in a row the visitors were fortunate not to be down more than a goal.
“The first half I thought we were poor, to be honest with you,” Chambers said. “We were kind of caught between two things that we didn’t do. We didn’t press. They didn’t create too much, but we didn’t see much of the ball. In the second half, we were a little better. This team doesn’t know when it’s dead, to be honest. We came back, got two late goals, and held them off.”
With the first team playing the same night and games upcoming on Tuesday and Friday, there were only four first team players on the field for Steel in the match. Jake McGuire started in goal while Adam Najem, Fabian Herbers and Matthew Real also started.
The win was the second on the road this season for the Steel, which improved to 5-5-2 on the season and are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference table ahead of a return home June 9 to host the defending USL Cup champions Louisville City FC at 5 p.m.