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Bethlehem Steel battles back from two-goal deficit to draw Louisville City

The Steel manage to earn a point at home but must now deal with the fallout from two red cards

Photo by Morgan Tencza

When the camera zooms into the referee as soon as the final whistle blows, you know you’ve just seen a match with some questionable refereeing decisions.

Sunday afternoon’s match between the Bethlehem Steel and Louisville City FC featured more than its share of head-scratching calls as the match almost got away from head referee Kevin Broadley on several occasions. But in the end everything managed to balance out as the teams fought to a 2-2 stalemate.

Michee Ngalina returned to the pitch at Talen Energy Stadium for the second time in the last 24 hours. He only got about ten minutes in his debut last night for the Union, so it wasn’t too surprising that he played the full ninety minutes for the Steel. The other exciting addition for the Steel was Issa Rayyan starting once again as he continues to battle back from injury.

The Steel had no problem holding their own against the two time defending champions during the early stages of the match. They nearly took the lead early on as center back Jamoi Topey almost tucked away a header in the 17th minute. But his effort rang off the crossbar and the match remained scoreless.

The Steel attack looked potent and they managed to maintain possession early on. The same could not be said for the defense as the back line had a few moments that made you hold your breath. It was one of these moments that lead to the first Louisville goal in the 26th minute.

It was Ben Ofeimu who made the error as he failed to get enough distance when he attempted to head away a cross. His ball fell short to the feet of Luke Spencer who pushed forward and dribbled Ofeimu into losing his footing when he tried to close him down. He calmly slotted a shot to the far post and Louisville became the latest team to take a first half lead against the Steel at Talen.

The period after the goal didn’t see any quality chances for either side, but there was an increasing number of harsh challenges by both teams. This continued to escalate, even after Ngalina and Louisville’s Paco Craig both received yellow cards in the 30th minute. The referee needed to assert control, but he may have went too far just a short time later.

After a hard foul by Craig on Ngalina (one that would have gotten him a second yellow in most circumstances) Bethlehem’s Faris came face to face with Louisville’s Napo Matsoso. They stood forehead to forehead with both players pushing and making contact with their heads. Broadley determined that this qualified as violent conduct and delivered red cards to both players.

It was several minutes before order could be restored on the pitch and both teams were confused by the turn of events that turned the match into a 10 v 10 scenario. Neither side was able to make a serious challenge before heading to the locker rooms to regroup at the half.

Louisville didn’t make any halftime substitutions in response to losing a midfielder to a red card and the Steel’s only change was to swap right back Olivier Mbazio for Nathan Harriel. This felt like more of a planned change than a result of playing with ten men. However, Chavany Willis did start playing more forward in the second half to help fill some of Faris’ role.

Bethlehem’s job got tougher early on as Louisville quickly doubled their advantage off of a Lucky Mkosana header. George Davis IV deserves much of the credit as he worked his way up the left side against the recently subbed Harriel. He had enough space to send a cross to Mkosana at the far post who headed in his fourth goal of the season.

Bethlehem needed to change things quickly if they didn’t want the game to get out of hand. They used Ngalina’s speed to try and create an opportunity, and that got them results right away. Ngalina outran Craig at the edge of the Louisville box and Craig delivered a hard foul to give Bethlehem a penalty. Even though his foul appeared to be an easy yellow, he didn’t see a card. Willis tucked away the penalty to cut the Louisville lead to one.

Willis would play the hero again six minutes later after a Steel corner. Walter Cortes’ low corner was cleared away but fell to Willis outside the box. But that was still within his range, so he blasted a rocket past goalkeeper Ben Lundt to level the match at two. This one might make the goal-of-the-week voting.

With the status quo restored, both sides settled down to avoid any mistakes that would give the other team the victory. The Steel pulled Rayyan for Yomi Scintu in the 64th minute but this seemed like another planned move rather than a change in approach.

Both sides got a hydration break around the 75th minute, and it was clear that they needed it. Playing the majority of the match as 10v10 seemed to take a lot out of both teams. Neither side was moving at full speed as the clock ticked on.

Louisville’s attack mostly consisted of trying to cross another ball to Mkosana at the far post, but the Steel defense adjusted enough to cut the crosses off. Mkosana collided with a few Steel defenders but was never shown a card for the collisions.

Late in the match, it appeared that Romero was given a yellow for time wasting. It was clarified a minute or two later that the card actually went to Ofeimu for that offense. So when Ofeimu went in for a hard challenge on Louisville’s Abdou Mbacke Thiam just a few minutes later, he received a second yellow and the Steel were down to nine.

This could have been a definitive advantage, but Thiam was hurt on the challenge (it appeared to be a shoulder/collarbone issue) and he was unable to return to the match. So the final minutes of the match were 9v9.

Louisville did manage a few late scrambles in front of the net, but Romero stood tall to preserve the draw. It looked like he may have been a bit banged up at one point, but he carried on and finished out the match.

Extra Thoughts:

1. Paco Craig wins the awards for the luckiest man of the match. He could have easily gotten three yellow cards, but his second offense was overlooked because of the double red that followed shortly after. It’s unclear why the foul that led to the penalty didn’t earn a yellow when he clearly made a rash challenge from behind. Perhaps the referee was reluctant to pull a third red so early in the second half. Watch the disciplinary committee results to see if he gets added punishment later.

2. Bethlehem will want to watch the disciplinary report as well because they may see punishments reduced. Ofeimu probably didn’t know he was on a yellow for time wasting because the 4th official apparently told Head Coach Brenden Burke that the card went to Romero. Perhaps the confusion will be enough to get the red rescinded.