The final score was the least of head coach Brendan Burke’s worries in Bethlehem Steel FC’s 4-0 loss to New York Red Bulls II on Friday night.
Already down eight players to suspension (Faris, Ben Ofeimu and Cole Turner), injury (Zach Zandi, Steven Kingue and Saed Diaz) and international duty (first team players Mark McKenzie and Matt Real), Burke had to go to his bench in the opening minutes when Michael Pellegrino pulled up limp. Sixteen-year-old Dante Huckaby checked in for Pellegrino — who was starting for the Steel for the first time since 2017 — to make his USL Championship debut.
Yomi Samuele Scintu went down with an injury and departed in the 27th minute, giving way for Shanyder Borgelin.
Burke then used his third sub at halftime to replace Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Matt Freese with Tomas Romero. Freese just recently returned to training with the first team after going down injured with a partially torn oblique last month. The team has not confirmed whether he was replaced because of an injury or if the halftime substitution was preplanned. But by then, the Steel was already down a pair of goals in a five-minute span from Kyle Zajec.
The Red Bulls added two more goals in the second half. Mathias Jorgensen converted a penalty kick in the 65th minute for a foul whistled on Jamoi Topey after Huckaby’s headed clearance on a bouncing ball fell to Jorgensen. Marcus Epps helped set up an own goal 11 minutes later when the former Union man’s shot was saved by Romero but deflected off the foot of teammate Walter Cortez and crossed the line.
It was the fifth time this season the Steel have been kept off the score sheet and the third time they’ve lost by three or more goals this season. It was the team’s worst lost since they fell 4-0 to Charlotte Independence in July 2017 and marked just the third time in club history they’ve conceded four or more goals in a game.
“Tonight was difficult for all of us, but we have to continue to push toward the club’s vision for this group,” Burke was quoted saying after the match.
The Steel drop to 3-4-6 (WDL) with the loss and are currently just below the line for playoff qualification at 11th place. The second place Red Bulls controlled possession (61 percent) and passing (373-242), outshot the visitors 22-7 (9-3 on target) and had a 15-1 advantage on shots taken inside the box.
The Steel return home next Sunday (June 9) to take on Derrick Jones and Nashville SC at 6 p.m. eastern at Talen Energy Stadium.
Bethlehem Steel FC Lineup: Matt Freese (Tomás Romero 46’); Walter Cortés, Jamoi Topey, Michael Pellegrino (Dante Huckaby 7’), Nathan Harriel; Chavany Willis, James Chambers ©, Anthony Fontana, Issa Rayyan; Michee Ngalina, Yomi Samuele Scintu (Shanyder Borgelin 27’)
Substitutes not used: Selmir Miscic, Axel Picazo