Two road wins, six goals and 230 minutes without conceding a goal have put Bethlehem Steel FC in playoff position with 10 games to go in the USL season.
A 3-0 win in Richmond on Saturday night was followed up by an identical score line in Charlotte on Wednesday night as Steel handing the Independence just their second loss at home this season.
Jamaican midfielder Omar Holness scored a goal in both matches, capping off his first Steel FC start with a goal in the 74th minute against Charlotte off an assist from Olivier Mbaizo, who made the USL Team of the Week for his two-assist performance against Richmond.
James Chambers opened the scoring Wednesday night early with a goal in the 7th minute off an assist from Faris and Drew Skundrich put an exclamation point on the match with his second in the 89th minute off an assist from Santi Moar.
Third-year captain Chambers called the road trip the best the team has had since he’s been with the team.
“I think we realized how the whole month of July was, to be honest and we just executed that game plans really well in both games,” Chambers said. “I thought maybe the first half against Charlotte we weren’t particularly great but we had the early goal to hold onto and the second half I thought we were excellent. It was probably our best road performance in the three years that I’ve been here.”
The Steel have scored 10 goals in their last three matches, only conceding once to improve their season record to 9-9-6.
They’ve done that with contributions from all over the roster, including from their youngest players: 18-year-old Michee Ngalina scored against Richmond, 18-year-old Faris assisted the game-winner in Charlotte and 17-year-old Brendan Aaronson helped get the three-game winning streak started with a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over Atlanta United 2. Faris also had a goal and an assist in that match.
Just three first team players have been in the lineup the last two games: Jake McGuire has back-to-back clean sheets and Mbaizo and Matthew Real have contributed to the team’s consecutive shutouts.
With just two points between Steel FC in sixth place and Nashville SC just below the playoff line in ninth place, head coach Brendan Burke will continue to treat games from here on out as playoff games.
“It was a good week,” Burke said. “I thought we started well in Richmond and that got us off on the right foot for the entire road trip. I thought we were really positive in the second half of the Charlotte game and poured a ton of energy into finishing the road trip off the right way. I thought we were shaky at times in the first half of the Charlotte game but we talked about how big that game was, how big that road win would be to us at the end of the season. Hopefully, that holds true now that we went and took care of business there.”
It won’t get any easier on Sunday at Goodman Stadium. Awaiting them is Keystone rivals Pittsburgh Riverhounds, which currently sit in second place in the East, seven points ahead of Steel with three games in hand.
“They have 14 clean sheets so they don’t give up goals,” Burke said. “It’s a Bob Lilley team so we know what to expect. They are second on the table so they’ll be coming to us expecting to get a result but we’re confident against anybody in this league that when we’re on it the day, that will take anyone on.”