USL - Philadelphia Union II

Match report: Richmond Kickers 0-0 Bethlehem Steel

Bethlehem Steel FC played to a scoreless draw Saturday against the Richmond Kickers on a Virginia field so muddy that extended patches of grass were only available on some parts of the pitch.

Bethlehem goalkeeper Samir Badr saved eight shots, while fullback Ryan Richter twice cleared shots that had beaten Badr to secure the clean sheet.

Field conditions combined with the home side’s midfield reshuffle to disrupt the Steel’s usual defensive horizontal spacing early in the game. Only after halftime did the Steel more frequently display their usual defensive shape.

First half

The Kickers came out flying, at one point winning four corner kicks between the ninth and fifteenth minutes, to put Bethlehem on their heels.

Bethlehem had drawn its flank midfielders towards the central channel defensively, opening space for the Kickers down the wings. Meanwhile, Brian Ownby’s speed frequently threatened the Steel’s goal. The first of Richter’s goal line clearances came in the 20th minute after Badr had only slowed Ownby’s shot while coming out to close down the latest rush.

Richmond’s midfielders filled the vertical gaps between the Steel’s own mids, cutting away any possibility of ground-based possession. As long as Richmond’s high-energy continued, the Steel were offensively limited.

After half an hour, the home side’s energy ebbed, and Steel forays penetrated more deeply. Seku Conneh struck a free kick off the bar in the 32nd minute, and the half ended with the Kickers’ keeper saving a shot from James Chambers off a free kick service.

The central midfield trio of Chambers, Bolu Akinyode and Derrick Jones had done an increasingly good job of defending the center as the half wore on. Richmond had dictated play in its preferred back-and-forth style, but the dictation was becoming less loud.

Second half

As the second half began, the wind began to rise, and it favored the Steel. Richmond goalkeeper Charlie Horton in particular suffered difficulty with goal kick distance.

Richmond focused more on counterattacks and dangerously so, as the transitions were instant. At the slightest hint of opportunity they raced forward.

For the Steel, winger Eric Ayuk showed his trademark tenaciously aggressive speed down the flank. The half’s new direction meant his side of the pitch had continuous grass on it. The Steel also began to play more balls through the air, bypassing the bumpy mud surface. A final Bethlehem adjustment was to slow the pace when in possession.

But a Kicker high speed breakout forced Richter’s second “behind Badr” save in the 56th minute, after a long throw-in pin-balled off Jones and was struck towards the net. This chance was Richmond’s best of the game.

As is Richmond head coach Lee Calishaw’s habit, the Kickers subbed on two fresh midfielders at the 60th minute, and the frenetic counterattacking continued.

In the 68th minute, Corey Burke replaced Conneh at striker. The big Jamaican began to press the Richmond center backs more aggressively, producing one noteworthy penetration toward the endline in the 82nd minute.

Richmond made a burst of effort as the last 20 minutes began, forcing several Badr saves, and as the last ten minutes emerged Steel defensive recovery speed slowed. Mud-wearied legs were getting heavy. Chambers was toe-width slow to a cross from Burke in the 87th that might have won it.

Each team finished out with dangerous chances. Richmond actually netted one, only to have it disallowed for offside in the 89th.

Mickey Daly shut down threats all across the back as the game drew towards its close. In each minute of stoppage time’s three, the Kickers gained meaningful scoring opportunities. A box-penetrating throw-in was mishit, a corner kick went awry, and Badr saved a free kick as the final whistle sounded.

BETHLEHEM STEEL FC STARTING XI

Samir Badr; Ryan Richter ©, Mickey Daly, Anderson, Taylor Washington; Bolu Akinyode, Derrick Jones; James Chambers (Josh Heard 90’), Cole Missimo (Jamie Luchini 76’), Eric Ayuk; Seku Conneh (Cory Burke 68’)

Unused Substitutes: Gabe Gissie, Nick Bibbs, Fred

RICHMOND KICKERS

Charlie Horton, Alex Lee, William Yomby ©, Hugh Roberts, Braeden Troyer; Samuel Asante, Lucas Paulini (Sunny Jane 62’, Fred Owusu Sekyere (Luiz Fernando 62’), Yudai Imuru; Jason Yeisley (Anthony Grant 87’), Brian Ownby

Unused Substitutes: Sawyer Gaffney, Travis Pittman, Michael Callahan, Nate Shiffman

SCORING SUMMARY

None

DISCIPLINE SUMMARY

RIC – Braeden Troyer 51’

RIC – Fred Owusu Sekyere 60’

BSFC – Derrick Jones 61’

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