When: Sunday, April 3rd, 3pm ET
Where: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – Goodman Stadium, Lehigh University
Opponent: Bethlehem Steel, Record 1-0-0 (2016 USL Expansion Team)
Just like FC Cincinnati, Bethlehem Steel are an expansion team playing their first season in USL. But unlike FC Cincinnati, Bethlehem Steel are an affiliate of a MLS club, Philadelphia Union.
This fact underlines an interesting dynamic in USL play that we will see throughout the season. FC Cincinnati is clearly being built and managed to win the USL championship, fill seats, make money, and perhaps ascend to MLS in the future. While clubs like Bethlehem Steel have many of the same motivations, their primary goal above all others is player development for their parent club.
Bethlehem Steel won their first match at FC Montreal 1-0 last Friday evening. In that match they demonstrated defensive solidity and quality midfield play against a Montreal side that frankly did not look impressive. Bethlehem played in a 4-1-4-1 formation against FC Montreal. Right back and team captain Ryan Richter was named to the USL team of the week. Their lineup featured two of the top six picks in the 2016 MLS Superdraft in Joshua Yaro (Georgetown) and Fabian Herbers (Creighton – Generation Adidas). Their victory featured quality midfield play from Cameroonian Eric Ayuk and left winger Walter Restrepo. Ayuk is a tough speedy right midfielder with a low center of gravity. He also comes equipped with guile and technical ability. Montreal spent most of the match fouling him all over the pitch in an attempt to contain him. Walter Restrepo is a left midfielder with pace and features classic marauding wing play. He terrorized the Montreal right back and had the assist for the game’s only goal. See Restrepo in action below.
Friday was fun.
— Bethlehem Steel FC (@BSteelFC) March 28, 2016
This all sounds a bit tough for FC Cincinnati. But the $50 million dollar question is: will these dynamic players actually start for Bethlehem Steel this Sunday? Last weekend was an international weekend that featured only three MLS games. Philadelphia Union did not play. It is possible that some of the best players that featured against FC Montreal will be in Philadelphia and not Bethlehem this weekend. Ayuk, Restrepo, Yaro and Herbers are all actually Philadelphia Union players on loan to the Steel. Herbers in particular has been getting bench time in the Union’s early games. How challenging this match will be for FC Cincinnati depends a lot on which of these players take the field on Sunday.
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is a town of 75,000 located just over an hour northwest of Philadelphia. People may not be aware, but Bethlehem Steel Football Club has a special page reserved for it in the history of American “football”. Yes, they actually used to call soccer “football” in the United States in the early 1900s, although you wouldn’t know it by the picture below.
Started in 1907 and sponsored by the Bethlehem Steel Company as recreation for its workers, the club was eventually taken over by steel magnate and Bethlehem Steel owner, Charles Schwab. Schwab turned it into a professional soccer team and imported players from Britain to improve the squad. During the period between 1913 and 1927 they won 5 United States Challenge Cups, 6 American Cups and 7 league championships, becoming the most successful American soccer team in history to that point. The Challenge Cup is the predecessor to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup which is still played annually across all U.S. Soccer leagues. Financial troubles, league disputes and the Great Depression ultimately led to the club’s demise in 1930.
Although the current incarnation of Bethlehem Steel has no direct ties to the early American club, it is an attempt by the Union to reconnect with the history and deep “football” roots in this region.
The Bethlehem Steel Company’s factory has an interesting history as well. I stumbled across some pictures of its ruins that were too interesting not to share. Check out the gallery and full resolution photographs at photographer Marc Reed’s website.
What to expect from FC Cincinnati
In short, we should expect more of the same. Despite the loss last Saturday the team possessed and passed the ball well for large periods of the game. Had they been more opportunistic in front of goal they could have won against a very decent Charleston side. There does not seem to be a lot of reason to deviate from the formation or tactics used. Harkes has shown a lot of variety in formation and personnel but one would expect that to settle down as the team progresses in the USL regular season.
We could see changes at the back if CB Harrison Delbridge or GK Mitch Hildebrandt have not fully recovered from their injuries. There are also a variety of attacking options at Harkes’ disposal and he could opt for a slightly different look at the forward or attacking midfield positions.
What would be a good result?
Charleston literally rained on FC Cincinnati’s opening day parade last weekend. FC Cincinnati will be looking to rebound from their last minute defeat and claim all three points in this Sunday’s match. If a lineup heavy with Philadelphia Union loanees starts for the Steel, FC Cincinnati will have their work cut out for them. A draw would still be a decent result. But you have to think that Harkes and his squad believe they are the best expansion team in 2016 and will be looking to prove that on Sunday before returning home on April 9th for the opener at Nippert.
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