For 18-year-old Bethlehem Steel FC defender Nathan Harriel, the past six months have been anything but uneventful.
Here’s a brief summary: De-committed from Clemson, moved 1,000 miles north, started a new school for his final semester of high school, joined a new academy team, returned to Florida for preseason with the Bethlehem Steel, made his professional debut, graduated from YSC Academy.
“It’s been really tough but at the same time it’s been good for me for my development getting used to the transition of being away from home, playing with grown men every single day,” Harriel said in an interview this week “It’s my life now and I gotta stay focused on this.”
Harriel is still an amateur, but the decision by the technical staff to keep him with the Steel squad during the Development Academy playoffs in San Diego speaks to what they see in the U.S. youth international.
After making his debut in the starting lineup the second week of the season, the Oldsmar, Florida native has made five appearances, four of those starts. He’s gone back and forth a bit between the Steel and the Philadelphia Union U19s, but is coming off two straight starts on the back line against Nashville SC and Saint Louis FC.
Playing in his natural right back position (he deputized at center back in the 4-1 loss to Nashville), Harriel had one of his best pro games to date in the 3-1 win last weekend over Saint Louis FC. The Steel were down to 10 men for 63 minutes in the game after a questionable straight red shown to Faris.
“His defensive work that he did in this game was a man’s work and that’s what we’re hoping to see is that progression, that mentality piece first, the most important piece these guys get at 17, 18 years old before they start to turn the corner and can influence games at this level,” Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke said. “I walked away very happy with Nathan’s performance this past weekend.”
Earning his place in the team has been part of the learning curve for Harriel since his move from south Florida in January. He played for Chargers SC in the Development Academy.
“Back with my home club I would play every single game and then I come here and I have to sit the bench behind really good players,” Harriel said. “The process has been tough, but it’s been good and it’s been helpful.”
Getting to play for the Steel has enabled family and friends back home to see him in action on ESPN+ broadcasts. It’s also put him in a position to potentially play against his hometown team today at Goodman Stadium in Bethlehem (5 p.m. ET, ESPN+).
“When I was younger I remember being with my family and my other teammates going to Rowdies games, being a ball boy, walking out with all the players before the game,” said Harriel, who was at the second leg of the 2012 Soccer Bowl when the Rowdies won the NASL championship. “Getting a chance to play against them, it’s crazy thinking about it now.”
Given the journey Harriel has been on over the past six months, it feels fitting it would include come full circle against the team that inspired him to pursue the path he’s on now in the first place. The return fixture at Al Lang Stadium is slated for September 21.
“They were the local team to look up to,” Harriel said, noting that through his youth club he had opportunities to watch the team train. “At an early age it was really good experience and motivated me to be at that level one day.”