By CHARLIE CORR – firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, March 7, 2016
Of the expansion sides joining the USL this season, Bethlehem Steel FC’s brand certainly carries the most historic value. The iconic name from the early-1900s teams has been rejuvenated, with Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union owning and operating the Lehigh Valley-based club. The Steel know there will be challenges along the way, which they experienced already during the preseason with Ken Tribbett earning the jump to the Union just one month after signing with Bethlehem. But with the resources and backing of an MLS franchise, Steel supporters should have additional talent waiting in the wings to step in and make this first campaign a special one.
Head coach: Brendan Burke
Stadium: Goodman Stadium
2015 results: (2016 expansion club)
2015 postseason: (2016 expansion club)
Goalkeeper: The Steel entered the preseason with Samir Badr looking to make a name for himself at this position. The 23-year-old former product of D.C. United’s youth system has hopped among a few professional teams, spending 2014 with OKC Energy FC and then serving as a backup on Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC last year. The 6-foot-3 goalkeeper hopes to be the Steel’s primary option moving forward to lead the expansion side in 2016.
Defense: New clubs need some players who have run through the journey before, and center back Mickey Daly fits that mold to a tee. The former Sacramento Republic FC defender earned the 2014 USL Championship and also anchored the club’s back line during their strong push to reach the 2015 USL Playoffs. Alongside Daly, the Steel have an additional tier of experience with Nick Bibbs (seven starts, 13 appearances with Saint Louis FC last year), Union 2015 MLS SuperDraft pick Raymond Lee and former Union MLS Supplemental Draft selection Ryan Richter, who won the 2012 USL Championship with the Charleston Battery.
Midfield: The Steel midfield has an interesting dynamic of young talent and experience. The club kicked off its new journey with the signing of midfielder Derrick Jones in December. Having come up through the Philadelphia Union Academy, the Ghana native recently celebrated in 19th birthday and has high hopes to produce from the get-go. On the flip side, the Steel have the likes of 29-year-old James Chambers on board. He has an extensive career in the Irish footballing world since his pre-teen years, so in all likelihood he will be seen as an experienced figurehead on a Steel squad looking to find its way in its inaugural season.
Forward: Bethlehem looked to the Caribbean region to jumpstart the attack in their first season with Jamaicans Amoy Brown and Corey Burke. The 19-year-old Brown was a goal-scoring threat for St. Georges College (high school level ball), where in 2014 he led his side to a runner-up finish in the 2014 LIME Cup and earned the tournament’s Golden Boot. Burke is on loan from Rivoli United of the Jamaican National Premier League. Bethlehem does have some USL championship experience among this group with the addition of 19-year-old Gabe Gissie, who was a member of Sacramento Republic FC’s title-winning 2014 squad and its playoff-bound side last year.
Strengths: In the early stages of the club’s first season, the presence of center back Mickey Daly and the defense as a group should serve as an important backbone, especially early on during the club’s first season. Between the regular season and postseason, Daly has roughly 5,000 minutes’ worth of USL experience over the past two years. Richter also enters his sixth year of professional soccer and joins his third USL team, having previously featured once for the Harrisburg City Islanders in 2011 and was a regular presence during the Charleston Battery’s 2012 USL Championship campaign.
Weaknesses: While more of an unknown than a weakness, the Steel’s goalkeeping situation might be the club’s biggest question mark for the mere fact that Samir Badr had not been the primary goalkeeper last season. Badr made seven starts last year serving as the backup to Devala Gorrick. However, he did split time with Jonathan Kempin during the 2014 USL season with OKC Energy FC, and now Badr has the forum to have a breakout season.
Key number: 53 – Mickey Daly’s regular-season appearances over the past two seasons with Sacramento Republic FC, with 52 of them being starts. That stretch Daly has logged 4,602 regular-season minutes, giving the Steel some much-needed experience heading into their opening year.
Noteworthy matchups: Pennsylvania has become a bit of a hotbed in the USL, so several rivalries should naturally spring for the Steel this season. The first in-state meeting to look forward to is the Steel’s road match against the Harrisburg City Islanders on May 22. With Harrisburg being the former affiliate of the Philadelphia Union, there figures to be some interesting tie-ins between the clubs when they square off. Another stretch to look forward to is Bethlehem’s six-game home swing from July 10-Aug. 7 that includes games against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (July 10) and the City Islanders (July 21).
Coach’s view: “It’s vital that the club is well integrated, and I think I can be a leader for the club in that department.” – Brendan Burke, on the Steel’s relationship within the Union organization
Current roster (updated: March 7, 2016):
Goalkeepers: Samir Badr
Defenders: Nick Bibbs, Mickey Daly, Raymond Lee, Ryan Richter
Midfielders: Boluwatife Akinyode, James Chambers, Josh Heard, Derrick Jones
Forwards: Amoy Brown, Corey Burke, Seku Conneh, Gabe Gissie