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Bethlehem Steel FC announces Issa Rayyan signing

Michigan native was 2018 ACC Freshman of the Year in his one season at Duke University

Matt Ralph

Philadelphia Union Academy grad Issa Rayyan will not be staying at Duke University, after all.

The 2018 ACC Freshman of the Year has agreed to terms on a Bethlehem Steel FC contract, forgoing his final three seasons with the Blue Devils to return to the organization he joined at the age of 14 from Michigan.

The Steel announced the signing on Tuesday.

“We are very excited about signing Issa to the Steel,” Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner said in a news release. “Issa has an awareness and excellent technical skill on the ball and we are happy to add another young prospect to the Steel. Issa has proven himself well at Duke and our Academy and we look forward to furthering his professional development with the Steel.”

Rayyan becomes just the third player recruited to the academy from outside the Philadelphia area to sign a pro contract with the organization. His former Vardar Academy teammate and fellow Michigan native Ben Ofeimu signed a Steel contract in January and current Atlanta United 2 midfielder Yosef Samuel signed with Steel FC out of the academy in 2016.

As an amateur, Rayyan made just one appearance for the Steel in 2017 and another in 2018. His senior season was cut short to injury, which kept him out of training with Steel and the Union U19 team’s run to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Development Academy playoffs.

“Issa joins Steel FC after a superb freshman season in college, where he surprised many observers but not those who worked with him in the Academy,” said Union Academy Director Tommy Wilson in the news release. “He has the ability to make and take chances, which together with his work rate will hopefully serve him well at the next level.”

His six goals and three assists only tell part of the story of his dominance during his one season at Duke. The 18-year-old tormented defenses with his pace and skill on the ball, especially after transitioning from playing as a wing back early in the season to an attacking midfielder/winger.

Rayyan played right back in his first scrimmage this preseason in Virginia last week at Loudoun United, but it’s not clear whether the team views him as a wing back, a midfielder or forward in the new winger-less system. While in the academy, Rayyan primarily played as a winger but also played as a central midfielder at times too.

His signing brings the Steel to within three players of meeting the USL roster minimum of 12. Head coach Brendan Burke said last week that they will likely end up carrying more than 12 players signed to pro USL deals on the roster this season.