With a bye week this week, Bethlehem Steel will be scoreboard watching to see where they stand in the playoff hunt when they begin the final four-game stretch of their season on September 22.
Those other games would mean significantly less if not for the Steel’s in-state rivals, which with Friday night’s loss in Pittsburgh ended up taking all 12 points in four games this season.
The two most recent losses — Friday night’s 4-1 setback to the Riverhounds just five days after Penn FC came into Goodman Stadium and beat them up by a 3-1 final — were especially tough given the three-game win streak that proceeded the two matches.
But this is where the Steel find themselves, in playoff position at sixth place but with plenty of company.
The Steel are just four points clear of ninth place Ottawa Fury and have a seven-point cushion three teams, North Carolina FC, Penn FC and Charlotte Independence, tied with 35 points.
The number of games remaining is where things start to get tricky.
The Steel have four games left, but New York Red Bulls 2 (two points behind them in the standings) have six left and Nashville SC (three points behind them in the standings) have seven remaining. Penn FC has three games in hand so they’re in position to also add pressure even from the 12th place spot where they currently sit.
Any points from the two Penn FC matches would have the Steel in a much different spot now. Ditto for their two recent matches with the Riverhounds.
After Friday night’s lopsided results, in-state opponents ended up outscoring the Steel 12-5 this season.
The 4-1 loss was their worst of the season, a week after losing by more than one goal for only the third time (their first multi-goal loss since way back in April).
The Steel made the playoffs for the first time last season, squeezing out the eighth spot in the conference standings with 44 points after getting five points out of their last four games.
Depending on how other results go, they may need more than a couple draws and a win to repeat the feat this time around.
They’ll kick off the final stretch of games next Saturday afternoon against last place Toronto FC II and face just one team — Indy Eleven — currently above them in the standings. They close the regular season on October 14 at home against Tampa Bay Rowdies.