Bethlehem Steel FC kicked off their big away fling with a gritty win against the struggling Charlotte Independence. The Rapids affiliate came close a few times and were a bit unlucky, but Bethlehem managed to get a big three points in North Carolina.
Early on Cory Burke was a nightmare. He used his physical play (much more on that later) and relative quickness to punish the Independence for some sloppy backline play 12 minutes in. Burke just nipped the ball past John Berner and settle himself, before finding the far side of the net. Defensively, Auston Trusty impressed early. Able to pick out pretty much every through ball and make some great heads up tackles and clearances, the 17 year old is so far evolved in his game that I might ask to see a birth certificate soon. The first half was mostly a Steel FC tilt, but in order to really take advantage of the chances they’re given, Bethlehem needs to do better on set pieces. Derrick Jones almost had a headed goal, but Berner made one of the better saves of the night to keep the game at one.
The second half was definitely a tonal switch that both teams apparently agreed to adopt at the half in a secret meeting. The pitch was ugly, and the game became really ugly. Bethlehem doesn’t mind having a reputation as being a physical team. The midfield especially is anchored by Jones, Bolu Akinyode and James Chambers. DJ and Bolu are both tall, lanky and strong guys and Chambers is a game manager, who can spring attacks just as well as he can make you think twice about 50/50 balls. That being said, I don’t know what Cory Burke was thinking in the 70th minute.
That is not a good tackle. That is not an unlucky tackle. That is a dangerous tackle that Burke was insanely lucky to only see yellow on. Ten men would’ve doomed Steel FC tonight, and Brendan Burke was smart to switch off the Jamaican forward for Raheem Taylor-Parkes very shortly after. Bilal Duckett was very lucky to be able to walk that one off, and I wouldn’t be surprised if coach Burke has a nice long conversation with his striker.
The real reason for Steel FC’s big road win over a deadly but non-lethal Independence side was Samir Badr. In the first half his main job was collecting crosses that Charlotte lobbed into the box. When the ten guys in front of him were attacking, he was able to deliver great service to his forwards and communicate well with the back line to keep pressure at a minimum. The second half required him to absorb as much pressure as he could handle. The save of the match took place when Caleb Calvert was in on goal at the top of the 18 but didn’t have any room to work with as Badr was on him instantly to keep Steel FC in front.
Brendan Burke went young tonight. His substitutions especially were pretty much all academy guys, with the exception being Josh Heard. Raheem Taylor-Parkes did well to hold the ball up and make runs down the flanks in the second half. Mark McKenzie got to see the game out and get used to a match again after a really unfortunate ball to the face saw him go through the concussion protocal. Finally, Justin McMaster was able to come on and make his pro debut. Bethlehem is going to trend young this Summer, and after a gritty road performance like that, the kids are going to be alright.