Bethlehem Steel halted a five-game winless streak in spectacular fashion on Sunday at home against Atlanta United 2 as three players scored their first professional goals in a dominant 4-1 victory.
Matt Mahoney opened the scoring off a corner kick from Chris Nanco to give the home side an early lead in the 16th minute and 20 minutes later Brenden Aaronson found Aidan Apodaca in the box for the 2018 Philadelphia Union draft pick’s first professional strike.
The goal was a long time coming for Apodaca, who had 48 goals in 68 games for Division 2 California Baptist during his college career.
“It felt great and it felt like a big weight was taken off my shoulders and I was happy to help the team get the win,” Apodaca said.
The 17-year-old Aaronson had an outstanding game in his first start for the Steel since he broke his collarbone in a game back in April. He nearly came up with another assist when he set up Faris in the box with a clever ball in the second half, but the 18-year-old was unable to put his shot attempt on frame.
Faris, who spelled Apodaca in the 60th minute, did open his scoring account minutes later when Prosper Chiluya made a strong run forward to set him up in the box. His left-footed blast beat Mitch Hildebrandt to the near post. Seconds later Faris made up for spoiling Aaronson’s earlier pass with a cross that deflected right to the front of the goal, where Aaronson was about to get a touch on it and put into the back of the net.
It was just the second goal ever scored by a current member of the Union Academy and the first by an attacking player. Defender Ben Ofeimu scored a goal earlier this season against North Carolina FC.
“I’m truly grateful, it’s great to score your first goal,” Aaronson said. “Faris dribbled down the line but it got blocked first but he got it back and sent it to me, it got deflected but I hit it in with my left.”
While the Philadelphia Union had the weekend off, just three first team players featured in the match: John McCarthy, Olivier Mbaizo and Marcus Epps. The decision to rest some of the other first team reserves paid off as the team’s youngest players helped lead the group back to the win column and back into the playoff picture. They are just one point out of playoff position, despite going 1-4-1 in the month of July.
“It was a little bit of a release, even in the North Carolina game was one that we felt we should have won,” head coach Brendan Burke said about the game. “Putting the ball in the back of the net, there is no substitute for that in terms of confidence so hopefully, we walk away confident today.”
Sunday’s match also marked the return of Philadelphia Union Academy grad and former Steel FC player Yosef Samuel, who started for his hometown Atlanta United 2 team, but unfortunately had to leave the match in the eighth minute with an injury.
Three players made their debut in the match for Atlanta, which scored its lone goal on an overhead kick from Devon Sandoval John McCarthy wasn’t able to react quickly enough to keep out of the net.