Match: Bethlehem Steel FC vs Penn FC
Date: Sunday, September 2nd
Time: 3:00 p.m. Eastern, 2:00 p.m. Central, 12:00 p.m. Pacific, 7:00 p.m. UTC
Venue: Goodman Stadium (Bethlehem, PA)
Refs: REF: Lorant Varga AR1: Ross Kleinstuber AR2: Tyler Wyrostek 4TH: Jaroslaw Werel
How to Watch: ESPN+ (Subscription Required) Service Electric (Bethlehem area)
What to Expect: Once again, Chris and Evan have traded questions to explore some of the storylines heading into Sunday’s match.
Chris Bratton: What has been the bigger driving factor in Bethlehem’s recent run of wins, the offense or the defense?
Evan Villella: Clean sheets are always going to lead to positive results so I suppose the defense. Jake McGuire (season long loan from the Union) and John McCarthy have been great when needed but this has been a great back line for about two months now. Brandon Aubrey has gotten a lot of love but Matt Mahoney has been a Swiss Army knife of stability. He’s played just about every spot along the defense and looked fine doing it. Prosper Chiluya has been good when called on and I feel like Olivier Mbaizo might be a rotation full back for the Union next year. The offensive hasn’t been bad by any stretch but Chris, it’s almost like it’s easier to win games when the other team doesn’t score!
Chris Bratton: The Union are playing great right now. Does that impact the Steel as well? Fewer new players plucked to join the Union 18 from week to week, for example.
Evan Villella: I’m sure in like some sort of organizational happiness makes everyone play loose, sure. I would love to see Derrick Jones and Anthony Fontana and Cory Burke every week but to see all those guys (especially Cory) do well for the first team is also mind blowing to me. I think it’s helped Steel’s front three of Chris Nanco, Santi Moar and Aidan Apodaca calm down a bit too. Not having to worry about Cory coming down and getting rid of Brandon Allen helped the offense really click by getting reps. Sure there’s still roster change week in and week out but I don’t think it’s been as drastic or life altering as years past. That could also probably be summed up by everyone having three years of experience with the system. It’s not like these guys don’t know what Bethlehem is anymore, you know?
Chris Bratton: What went wrong during the first loss to Penn FC and how do the Steel avoid making the same mistakes?
Evan Villella: We really hate playing at FNB it seems? Penn FC came out from the jump and stayed hungry and got a good win. Bethlehem had their worst stretch of the season by far during and after that game, so hopefully some positive momentum is a nice wake up call. If we play like we have been at home on Sunday, we should be fine. The added pressure of that playoff window closing may help, but I kind of worry that we’ll look ahead to Pittsburgh instead of focusing on you guys honestly. Hopefully I’m wrong.
Outside looking in for you guys again as far as playoffs go, is that difficult or is there maybe big picture things that have you optimistic for 2019?
Chris Bratton: Well the hope for Penn FC that’s been in the back of eveyone’s mind all year is that the season ends with nine straight home matches. Sunday’s match against Bethlehem will actually be Penn FC’s final away match. So I think they haven’t given up hope on getting back into the playoff picture yet and they fact that they’ve been able to keep fairly close to the top 8 positions is exciting.
I think what will keep everyone optimistic going into next year is that some of the growth from this season will carry over. Everything changed last season including the coaches, the name, and most of the roster. With more consistency going into 2019, I think that’ll be a lot to build on.
Evan Villella: You and Toronto FC II have been giant killers more or less as of late, is there some sort of weird joy you get out of taking down teams in the playoff hunt? Are the guys getting up a bit more knowing that they have a chance to knock off a really hot Steel side right now?
Chris Bratton: I think Toronto probably has a bigger claim to being giant killers right now. Penn FC was stuck in a rough patch before topping Ottawa last week. But I think what’s keeping everyone’s hopes up is how close these matches have been. Just look at Harrisburg’s August last season. They were getting blown out 3-0 or even 5-0. So even though Penn FC was losing during August, they were playing good matches and keeping things close.
I think Penn FC is going to come out with guns blazing because they want to get another win over a PA team and also pull themselves back into a playoff position. And I think that what’ll help is that Penn FC tends to play up to the level of their competition. Which is good when they’re playing teams like Louisville but it can be frustrating when they end up losing twice to Richmond.
Evan Villella: Lucky Mkosana and Ken Tribbett have grabbed a lot of attention for Penn FC this season, is there anyone that you don’t think gets enough credit for the success they’ve had?
Chris Bratton: Sure, I’ll give you a name on defense and a name for the offense.
Defensively I think Kyle Venter has been quietly solid all season. He has only had the one goal, but he’s still a set piece threat like Tribbett. And he’s made some huge defensive stops like that clearance off the line during the Bethlehem match.
And on offense I think that Dan Metzger doesn’t get enough credit. He’s a midfielder that usually plays pretty deep during the matches, but he’s a key part in moving the ball around in the midfield and getting the offense started. He’s actually been out the last few matches, and I think that may have been why they struggled at times.