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Steel FC falls flat in loss to Charlotte Independence

Chavany Willis brought the team to life with a goal in the 80th minute but the rally fell short

Bethlehem Steel FC’s three-match unbeaten streak came to a halt on Tuesday night with a letdown 2-1 loss on the road to the Charlotte Independence.

A starting lineup featuring five Philadelphia Union players, including Derrick Jones making his first appearance in USL this season, was unable to keep the momentum going from back-to-back wins over Swope Park Rangers and Charleston Battery. First-teamers Carlos Miguel Coronel, Matt Real, Anthony Fontana and Olivier Mbaizo also started for the visitors.

The Jacks started the game strong, putting the Steel back line under pressure and found a breakthrough in the 29th minute when defender Andrew Gutman (on loan from Celtic) knocked in a Mark Hill free kick that caromed off the post.

Jorge Herrera had an opportunity late in the first half to double the lead on a curling ball into the box he did well to bring down but Ben Ofeimu was there to make a key deflection and keep it to a 1-0 scoreline at the break.

Head coach Brendan Burke had to switch up his team, burning a substitute to replace right back Issa Rayyan, who went down with an injury just before halftime. He moved Olivier Mbaizo from center back out wide and paired Cole Turner with Ofeimu.

Burke went to his subs bench again in the 57th minute with Zach Zandi spelling academy midfielder Jack de Vries and brought in captain James Chambers for Fontana in the 64th minute.

It wasn’t until after the Jacks took a 2-0 lead though that the visitors finally came to life.

The 2-0 advantage came through Herrera, who after coming on short on a couple earlier chances didn’t miss the opportunity to double the lead in the 72nd minute when Alex Martinez found him on a curling cross in the box. The 38-year-old veteran was able to beat a back-pedaling Ofeimu to the ball and head it past Coronel.

A deflection off former Steel defender Hugh Roberts from a cross into the box by Michee Ngalina gave the Steel a lifeline in the 80th minute when Chavany Willis was able to head it home. The goal was the first of the Jamaican’s Steel career.

The Willis goal led to some more pressure from the Steel attack, which nearly found an equalizer through a Mbaizo cross that only needed a touch and a fancy chip from Chambers that Independence goalkeeper Curtis Anderson was able to keep out. The win was the first of the season for the Independence.

The Steel return home in the second game of a double header with the first team at Talen Energy Stadium to take on Indy Eleven. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN+ at 4 p.m.