Analysis / Philadelphia Union II

Steel playoff chances revisited

The Steel have completed three-fourths of their season after last Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh, so it is time to reassess their playoff prospects as they approach the last eight games of the season. Currently, they occupy the last playoff spot in the East with 33 points.

We indicated at the season’s halfway point that the Steel’s second half would be more challenging than their first, and we have been proven correct. They are not among the elite at the top of the conference – that would be Louisville, Charlotte, Charleston, Rochester and Tampa Bay – but they have played well against these teams.

The last eight

They still have to face Tampa, both home – Saturday, September 9 – and away – Saturday, September 30 – and must still visit Louisville on Friday, September 15. Any points gained from these three games would be significant.

Whether Bethlehem remain in the playoff field will depend on winning 11 or more points from their other five games:

  • Orlando, away tomeorrow
  • Pittsburgh, at home on Sunday, September 24
  • Toronto, away on Friday, October 6
  • Rochester, away on Tuesday, October 10
  • St. Louis, home on Sunday, October 15.

They only have two more matches at Goodman Stadium, but the Steel have an excellent road record, winning five out of 11 away from home.

Orlando, Cincinnati, Bethlehem, Pittsburgh and New York are all within three points of each other as they compete for the last three playoff spots.  Of those contenders, the Steel have the most wins (10) but the fewest ties (3).


Compare the current “points per game” table below to the official total points standings on the USL website, and notice that two team-pairs reverse positions, Rochester with Tampa and Bethlehem with Cincinnati. Both Rochester and Bethlehem hold games in hand – the Rhinos have two and the Steel have one.

We rank the USL eastern conference by points-per-game as of 8/28/17.  The ∂ column compares the current points per game to the previous data we published  7/12/17.

Team Ppg     ∂
1 Louisville City FC 1.91  -0.02
2 Charlotte Independence 1.76  -0.11
3 Rochester Rhinos 1.65 +0.05
4 Charleston Battery 1.64  -0.42
5 Tampa Bay Rowdies 1.58 +0.08
6 Orlando City B 1.40 +0.16
7 Bethlehem Steel FC 1.38  -0.25
8 FC Cincinnati 1.36 +0.03
Playoff Qualification Line
9 Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1.32 +0.14
10 New York Red Bulls II 1.28 +0.04
11 St. Louis FC 1.21 +0.14
12 Ottawa Fury FC 1.21  -0.04
13 Harrisburg City Islanders 0.96  -0.04
14 Richmond Kickers 0.92 +0.21
15 Toronto FC II 0.84 +0.02
Non-statistical schedule analysis

Tomorrow the Steel play sixth-place Orlando, whom they lost to 2-0 in the fourth game of the season at Goodman. While Central Florida in the dog days of summer can be challenging, Orlando’s home record is weak: 2-2-7. However,  the Lion Cubs are undefeated in their last eleven at 3-0-7. Still, a win or a draw is not out of the question.

In September, the Steel play four times, and they need points from all of those matches. They host Tampa Bay, who are tied for fourth in the points table with Rochester, and the Rowdies play  poorly away from home – a prime opportunity to gain points. Then they visit Louisville who are deservedly tied for first with Charlotte, so a point in Kentucky would be a significant achievement.

Hosting Pittsburgh, with whom they are tied on points, is their best September chance for some more points. They finish by visiting Tampa Bay whose home record (9-1-3) is as strong as its road record (1-5-5) is weak.

In October, the Steel visit last place Toronto, from whom they must take all three points – notwithstanding that the Reds recently have managed some surprising upsets. Then four days later, they face an experienced Rochester side that will likely be trying to secure a home playoff game. They end by hosting St. Louis, another game from which they need three points to secure a playoff slot.

PSP’s opinion

Readers all know that PSP’s resident data scientist, Chris Sherman, runs a thorough set of computer simulations every week using weighted models of his own creation. The following are his findings about the Steel today:

  • Bethlehem is 18th in the league power rankings.
  • Bethlehem could finish 8th in the east.
  • The Steel’s probability of making the playoffs is 57%.
  • They have the fourth most difficult remaining schedule in the league (and third in the East).
  • Their final record might see them reach 43 points – 13 wins, 15 losses, 4 ties.
  • And, warming greater Philadelphia hearts, New York Red Bulls II have a 23% chance of returning to the playoffs.

Bethlehem making the playoffs is a reasonable possibility but by no means a certainty.  Seku Conneh’s return to early season form would enhance their chances. And head coach Brendan Burke pulling a rabbit out-of-his hat (as he did in Reading) would be helpful as well.

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