A Michee Ngalina free kick and Zach Zandi’s first goal since his USL Championship debut back in March led the Steel to their first win since July with a 2-0 victory over Swope Park Rangers at Talen Energy Stadium on Sunday night.
After losing Faris and Sergio Santos to red cards and seeing their hard fought comeback derailed in a 3-2 loss to Birmingham Legion a week earlier in Chester, the Steel lined up with Michee Ngalina and 15-year-old academy forward Patrick Bohui up top and Walter Cortes wearing the armband for the first time at left back. Ngalina was the lone first team player on the field and Bohui at 15 years, eight months and 29 days old became the youngest player to ever start a match for the team.
Swope Park countered with a strong lineup featuring Sporting Kansas City contracted players Jaylin Lindsey, Felipe Hernandez and Wan Kuzain and looked dangerous early in a pretty evenly played match at the start.
A bad pack pass to Bohui in the box nearly gave the home team an early lead, but it was Zandi’s movement through the midfield that created the first goal when he was fouled just outside the box and Ngalina buried the free kick in the 36th minute.
As he did against Birmingham, Zandi had a legitimate shout for a penalty that went uncalled when he appeared to be knocked down in the box, but he ended up getting his illusive second goal in the 75th minute thanks in large part to Issa Rayyan’s work finding space in the box and getting him the ball.
Rayyan didn’t get on the score sheet with an assist on the play as Zandi’s initial shot was saved and he had to beat a defender to the ball to put the rebound away. Zandi put another fine shift in on the day on top of the goal with a 93.1 passing accuracy for the day on 29 passes.
“Yeah, it was a solid performance,” Zandi said after the match. “I think there are still a lot of things to improve upon. It was a game that we had to win, there was no other option, so to get the three points is good, but we still have a lot to improve upon.”
Defensively, the Steel were able to get the job done and keep the visitors off the board despite giving up some dangerous scoring opportunities and playing the final six minutes plus stoppage time down a man after Jamoi Topey was sent off with a second yellow card in the 84th minute. Todd Morton made six saves to record his second clean sheet in four starts since joining the team while Cortes had a team-high three tackles and added two clearances, an interception, a couple chances created and a successful cross.
The win was the first for Steel since their 1-0 win on the road at Louisville on July 20 and the first at home since the 3-1 win over Saint Louis FC at La Salle’s McCarthy Stadium on June 15. It was just their second win of the season in Chester and the first since a 3-1 win over Charleston Battery in April.
The win does put them in striking distance of the playoff line, five points behind the Battery for the 10th and final playoff spot with nine games remaining. They visit North Carolina FC on Saturday night and also still have road games against Indy Eleven, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Memphis 901 FC, Atlanta United 2, Ottawa Fury and Charleston Battery. Their final two home games are against Loudoun United on Wednesday, September 18 and Charlotte Independence on Sunday, October 6.