Philadelphia Union II

Steel continuity and change from 2016 to 2017

Photo: Earl Gardner

It’s time to start paying attention to Bethlehem Steel FC.

They open their preseason slate today at YSC Sports against Junior Lone Star FC, who boast Derrick Jones as an alumnus.

Continuity from 2016  

The Bethlehem Steel FC project remains first and foremost a player development device for the Union.

The highest priority for Steel games – not practices — is to supply the first team whatever it needs.

A close second for both games and practices is to evaluate the top players in the Union’s academy. Are any of them ready to bypass NCAA soccer and turn pro immediately, as left back Matt Real did earlier this offseason?

So like last year, Steel FC game rosters will feature the on a game-by-game basis:

  1. First-teamers in need of game minutes and fitness
  2. Academy players needing growth opportunities and evaluation
  3. The Bethlehem Steel FC USL roster

However, game roster continuity remains a low priority due to the organization’s interchangeable player theory.

Roster size

Some recent chatter around the league suggests that MLS roster sizes in 2017 may feature new, extra slots for home grown players. If so, that will lead to more first teamers looking for game minutes with the Steel, which may reduce USL signings.

The USL minimum roster size was 12 in 2016. Assuming that remains the case, the Steel must sign two more players to USL contracts, and should sign one or two more beyond that. That said:

  • They have a backup goal keeper trialist in camp.
  • The two probable starting outside backs may receive national youth team call-ups, signalizing a serious need for depth at that position.
  • There is only one center back currently signed as a USL player, so they are obviously thin in the position.
  • A holding midfielder able to back up all three positions would be ideal.

Practice

In 2016, PSP noticed the above-mentioned roster issues while covering practices. So this year, in addition to covering games, covering Steel FC practices will provide more information for our readers. Since we’ll have a better idea of who’s training, readers will know more about the team’s future. And since first team members do not practice with the Steel, we will pay attention to which academy players are practicing full-time with the Steel.

Bethlehem Head Coach Brendan Burke is making those decisions now. Burke mentioned that not only are some seniors showing promising signs, a handful of juniors are making good impressions.

A crucial date during the six-month season is Aug. 1, the start of NCAA fall soccer, when Academy graduates head to school. They remain potential homegrown claims, but can no longer practice and play with the USL’s Steel. Instead they must spend summers at a lower level with the PDL’s Reading United AC.

Meanwhile, our first visit to a Steel practice revealed two interesting tidbits:

  • Former Union and Steel player and coach “Granpa” Fred is now coaching the younger teams on the soccer side of the Academy. He practices with the Steel when they need extra bodies.
  • Former Steel reserve and Lower Merion product Nick Bibbs is also coaching with the academy while he continues his studies.

Three changes

Both of the United Soccer League’s conferences now have 15 teams. In the Steel’s Eastern Conference:

  • Ottawa Fury has replaced FC Montreal.
  • Wilmington Hammerheads have stopped operating as a USL franchise.
  • Tampa Bay Rowdies have joined USL.
  • St. Louis FC has returned to the Eastern Conference since Reno 1868 FC has joined the league.

Also, USL sides will now be able make three substitutions per game instead of five. Since teams will no longer be playing two away games on the same weekend (which was done to save money), the extra subs are no longer needed.

Finally, of the Steel’s 16 home matches, six of them will be played on Saturdays, nine on Sundays and one on Thursday.

One Comment

  1. great insight, especially to the team needs

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