FC Cincinnati finishes its three game road series on Sunday when they take on Bethlehem Steel FC at Goodman Stadium. The Orange and Blue currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference on three points with one win and one loss after two games. Last Saturday they earned their first points of 2017 with a narrow 1-0 victory over a 10 man Pittsburgh Riverhounds side.
Bethlehem Steel is the MLS 2 side for the Philadelphia Union, and like FC Cincinnati, are playing just their second season in USL. Unlike some MLS 2 sides, Steel FC has their own branding and plays outside of their MLS team’s metro area.
Bethlehem played their first match of the year last Saturday and lost 3-2 to Rochester as the result of an 88th minute goal from Jochen Graf. Steel FC controlled 60% of possession and outshot Rochester, but came out on the wrong end of a match where three goals were scored from the penalty spot.
Q&A With Evan Villella
Orange and Blue Press caught up with Evan Villella to get the run down on Steel FC. Evan is the host of the Eastern Conference Confidential podcast, and the Bethlehem Steel staff writer for the Brotherly Game.
I remember talking to you last year after the match at Goodman Stadium and you thought that Steel FC was a playoff team. Bethlehem finished 11th in the East. What happened to a team that looked good early?
“Losing Ryan Richter and Mickey Daly midseason to New York Cosmos and NCFC respectively was a huge blow for the defense. It didn’t help that defender and Union loanee Anderson was outplayed consistently by Union homegrown Auston Trusty. Between that and no one stepping up to grab goals consistently, Steel was stuck on the outside looking in.”
Steel FC lost their season opener to Rochester in a game that featured 3 PKs, what did they do well in that match?
“I thought they controlled possession really well against a very tough Rochester side. Between that and getting quality performances from academy products Tomas Romero (16 year old keeper who will be away on YNT duty with El Salvador) and Josue Monge (looked pretty good in the CM role next to Brian Carroll), there’s a lot to like from a narrow defeat.”
Charlie Davies scored for Bethlehem last weekend. It’s not often that we see a former US international matched up against us. How has Davies looked in preseason, and will see him on Sunday?
“Davies was a short term loan, which all MLS 2 sides have the ability to do at any time during the season. Really those are just to get guys minutes and Chuck needed them this preseason. He looked, fine, burying a penalty at the death of the first half and generally being one of the more dangerous guys on the pitch for Steel in the opening 45. That being said, for the way Steel play, Jamaican International Cory Burke or even Seku Conneh is a better bet.”
Steel FC featured eight Union loanees last week. Are we going to see that much MLS talent again this Sunday?
“I hope not. Perhaps for selfish reasons (I saw a ton of Derrick Jones before he lit up MLS last year), but I really enjoy seeing the next crop of young talent in the organization apply their craft in USL. Chris Nanco should be available and I would be very wary of him and Marcus Epps out wide.”
Unlike some MLS2 teams, Steel FC has unique branding and plays in a removed market from the parent club. Do you think this model works better in terms of drawing fan support? Are there other benefits?
“The Lehigh Valley (kind of the surrounding area where Bethlehem play) is a hot bed for development teams. The Philadelphia Flyers have their AHL team in the LV and the Philadelphia Phillies have their top affiliate (AAA) in the LV as well. From that stand point, it’s a real smart move. In terms of drawing fans I didn’t get an attendance number this last weekend but 800-1600 is not bad all. From a marketing stand point I think the “MLS 2″ team name is lazy and boring, but that’s one man’s opinion.”
Anything else we should know about Bethlehem Steel ahead of the match?
“Auston Trusty (#26) helped the USMNT u-20’s take home their first CONCACAF crown this summer. He is frightfully good at knowing where he is and plays strong for a young kid just out of the Academy. We also might have Adam Najem who was the crown jewel of the Red Bull academy, and could turn into one of the best attacking mids in USL.”
History Making Fixture
In FC Cincinnati’s inaugural 2016 season, the away match at Bethlehem Steel produced the team’s first ever goal and their first ever win. Andrew Wiedeman has the honor of being the team’s first goalscorer. He opened FC Cincinnati’s account with a low near post drive assisted by Kenney Walker in the 25th minute. Sean Okoli doubled FC Cincinnati’s lead in the 35th minute with a goal that featured some great combination play with Wiedeman. The match was also history making for Steel FC. It was their inaugural home opener at Goodman Stadium.
Re-live those trivia-making moments here. The second goal is especially good to watch.