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Steel FC falls 1-0 to North Carolina FC in home opener

Carlos Miguel Coronel came up with a double save in the first half, but a second half goal led the visitors to their second straight win to open the season

After missing two cracks at a goal off a penalty kick in first half stoppage time, Dutch forward Marios Lomis punished the Bethlehem Steel FC defense with a quick strike half volley five minutes into the second half to lead North Carolina FC to a 1-0 win in Chester on Saturday night.

Lomis drew a penalty late in first half stoppage time when he was dragged down in the box by Union Academy right back Nathan Harriel, but was denied twice on a double save from on loan goalkeeper Carlos Miguel Coronel to end the half.

In addition to picking up his teammates, Coronel’s double save in his Steel FC debut should be a welcome sign for Union fans looking ahead to a March 23 game at home against Columbus Crew while Andre Blake is away on international duty.

The 22-year-old Brazilian on loan from Red Bull Salzburg ended the night with eight saves. But he was unable to do much to stop the goal, which Bucks County native Steven Miller set up with a flick to Lomis.

The Steel nearly took the lead in the 42nd minute when captain James Chambers sent a curling ball into the box on a free kick that Chavany Willis was able to flick on toward goal but Alex Tambakis made an acrobatic stop to deny the Jamaican his first USL goal. Their only other shot on goal on the night came off a Chambers free kick in the 70th minute that went right at Tambakis for a routine save.

“Toothless performance from us, obviously with two attempts on goal maybe a few more attempts but on targets, that’s just not enough pressure on them on our fieldm,” head coach Brendan Burke said. “We kind of knew that was going to be the case going in given how light we were going in the game but the reality is we still expect more from ourselves.”

Burke’s lineup was somewhat depleted with injuries to both the first team and Steel. Faris didn’t see the field for a second straight match, Michee Ngalina has been out for personal reasons and one of his goal scorers from week one, first team forward Kacper Przybylko is nursing a fractured little toe. Saed Diaz dressed but didn’t see the field after picking up a right hamstring strain.

Jack de Vries made his first start, pairing with Issa Rayyan up top for the first time after Rayyan started at right back last week. Nathan Harriel made his debut starting at right back and Cole Turner earned his first Steel start while 15-year-old Patrick Bohui became the youngest Steel FC debutant to date when he subbed into the game for de Vries after the hour mark. Steven Kingue, a 19-year-old from Cameroon, also made his Steel debut as a second half substitute.

“I think today became about for us in the end taking positives away from the young guys that were introduced and there were a whole bunch of them again that got their first either start or experience and that’s good that’s positive,” Burke said. “We’re going to lean on that later in the year, we’ve always been a slow build and this year is going to be no different if not way worse than it’s been in the past.”

Turner played higher up the pitch than he’s accustomed to, pairing with Zach Zandi in the two attacking midfield spots in the 4-2-2-2. Zandi put in another strong performance after being named to the USL Championship Team of the Week and Turner was a physical and disruptive presence.

“Two strong performances from [Zach] Zandi and I’ll throw Cole Turner in there for his first time out,” Burke said. “I said to him in front of the group after the game ‘You looked like you played 20-25 games, you were pushing, you were big, strong, clean on the ball when you had to be.’ Hopefully he only grows from there, but that was a major positive for me tonight.”

A YSC Academy senior from Maryland who is committed to the Naval Academy, Turner has traditionally been a holding midfielder in his time in the academy, but played at center back for the first team in a preseason scrimmage and was higher up the pitch than usual in his first pro start after subbing in as a forward late in the game last week.

“That was a new position for me so I think I need to be more of an attack presence in the box,” Turner said.

In addition to Coronel, the only other first team player on the field Saturday was left back Matt Real, who struggled at times with his accuracy on crosses (all six were unsuccessful) but was lively on the ball and made some strong runs forward in the attack.

Saturday’s game was the first for the Steel at Talen Energy Stadium. The announced attendance was 737. The team returns to action next Sunday when they host Memphis 901 FC at 6 p.m. in the second game of a three-game home stand.

Bethlehem Steel FC: Carlos Miguel Coronel^; Matt Real^, Jamoi Topey, Ben Ofeimu, Nathan Harriel#; James Chambers ©, Chavany Willis; Zach Zandi, Cole Turner# (Steve Kingue 76’); Jack de Vries# (Patrick Bohui# 62’), Issa Rayyan

Substitutes not used: Tomás Romero#; Walter Cortés, Saed Díaz, Faris

North Carolina FC: Alex Tambakis; Aaron Guillen, Sam Brotherton, Alexander Comsia, DJ Taylor; Thomas McCabe, Austin da Luz © (Graham Smith 90’), Steven Miller (Yamikani Chester 77’), Ben Speas; Ulrich Uwolo, Marios Lomis (Robert Kristo 68’) Substitutes not used: Darrin MacLeod; Andre Fortune, Viktor Igbekoyi, Manny Perez