USL Match report

Match Report Bethlehem 2-2 Tampa Bay

Photos Rob Simmons

Bethlehem Steel twice fought back from a one-goal deficit Wednesday afternoon to draw the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-2.

Georgi Hristov opened the scoring for the Rowdies on a penalty kick down the middle against a diving Jake McGuire in the 35th minute for a 1-0 halftime lead.

Pass interference, spot foul

Cory Burke put a strong, perfectly placed shot to the far post past Rowdies’ keeper Matt Pickens in the 47th minute at the opening of the second half. Burke thus broke his own single-season scoring record, raising it to nine and exploiting a perfectly placed first professional assist from Steel left back Matt Real. The Jamaican has six goals in his last five games.

Derrick Jones’s yellow card in the 55th saw Rowdies defender Hunter Gorskie head home the resultant free-kick service from midfielder Marcel Shafer to re-take the lead.

Two hot strikers are a good thing to have

But nine minutes after coming on for right winger Chris Nanco in the 69th, Seku Conneh was given his favorite shot – across the keeper to the far post – by a team-leading sixth assist from attacking center mid Adam Najem and he scored it to earn the draw.

Tampa had 18 more hours to recover from their previous match, a 1-0 victory over the Charlotte Independence last Saturday night, than did the Steel from beating Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon. It seemed to show positively in the legs of the oldest team in the league as the Steel lacked Sunday’s zip off the opening tap early. But the younger fellows’ resilience began to show late in the second half, as age weighed heavily on old Floridian legs. As last Sunday, tough temperatures and humidity earned the teams two hydration breaks.

Tampa Bay Head Coach Stuart Campbell quipped that both teams would have the easiest scouting job of the year, since breaking down the game tape would serve as the scouting report for the next game.  The Steel will fly to Tampa Friday after practice for Saturday night’s rematch.

Three points

the Captain is concentrating

Playoff implications: In their post-game interviews both coach Burke and captain James Chambers indicated that while a win would have been preferable, the draw’s point keeps the team on-track for playoff qualification. They hope for a point or three in Florida, but the Rowdies’ record is formidable there.

The standings: The draw pulls the Steel into seventh place ahead of Orlando City B on a tie-breaker. While the two each have 39 points, the Steel have 11 wins to the Lion Cubs’ 9. Bethlehem is now a point ahead of New York Red Bulls 2, now having the same number of games played. These three other teams are within three points of the Steel:

  • Cincinnati, 6th at 40,
  • Bethlehem, 7th at 39,
  • Orlando, 8th at 39, and
  • NY Red Bulls 2, 9th at 38.

Bethlehem has a game in hand on Cincy and Orlando.

Four games left: None of the four games left come on a full week’s rest. The next three are all away – to Tampa on the third day, Saturday, to Toronto FC II on the sixth day after Tampa, and to Rochester on the fourth day after Toronto. They finish at home on the fifth day after Rochester, against St. Louis.

Today’s draw allows Burke to follow his planned squad rotation in Tampa, which should position him well to take his strongest 18 to Vaughn, Ontario against the last-place Reds reserve, who stunned the eastern conference by beating leader Louisville City 1-0 later Wednesday evening.

Steel fans should keep an eye on St. Louis’s last three games. If the Missourians were to be dead in the playoff water by the season finale, that might help the Steel take points from them.


Bethlehem: Jake McGuire*; Aaron Jones*, Hugh Roberts, Auston Trusty*, Matt Real; Derrick Jones*, James Chambers C; Chris Nanco (Seku Conneh 69’), Adam Najem*, Santi Moar (Yosef Samuel 86’); Cory Burke (Josh Heard 89’). Unused substitutes: Thomas Romero**; Charlie Reymann, Matt Mahoney, Brenden Aaronsen**. *Union loanee; **Academy player.

Take note: For the first time this season, and only the second time in club history, Bethlehem Steel FC started a lineup that has been used in a previous game – the draw with Louisville City FC at Louisville 9/15/2017.

Tampa Bay: Matt Pickens C; Darnell King, Hunter Gorskie, Neill Collins, Zac Portillos; Alex Morrell (Walter Restrepo 69’), Michael Nanchof (Keith Savage 44’), Marcel Schafer; Sebastian Guenzatti, Martin Paterson (Darwin Jones 80’), Georgi Hristov. Unused substitutes: Akira Fitzgerald; Tam Mkandawire, Martin Vindgaard, Joe Cole.

Scoring Summary:

Tampa:        35th minute        Georgi Hristov (PK)
Bethlehem: 47th minute        Cory Burke (from Matt Real)
Tampa:        55th minute        Hunter Gorskie (from Marcel Shafer)
Bethlehem: 78th minute        Seku Conneh (from Adam Najem)

Disciplinary Summary:

Tampa:        18th minute        Georgi Hristov (foul)
Bethlehem: 19th minute        Santi Moar (foul)
Bethlehem: 39th minute        Cory Burke (foul)
Bethlehem: 55th minute        Derrick Jones (foul)
Bethlehem: 69th minute        Auston Trusty (foul)
Tampa:        89th minute        Darnell King (dissent)

Take Note: Auston Trusty will be suspended for yellow card accumulation in the return match away in Florida Saturday night.

Referee:          Jared Simmons

Simmons did not yellow card Tampa Bay center back Neill Collins for persistent infringement after three consecutive forearms to the back of Cory Burke’s head in the space of nine minutes at the very beginning of the game. He thus sent a message he would allow physical play, and then had to change it.

Unsurprisingly between two teams fighting for inclusion in the playoffs, given the initial message, the game became quite physical, forcing the change. As it was Tampa midfielder Michael Nanchoff was taken off the field on an ambulance’s stretcher and subsequently to a local hospital, the first such medical removal PSP has seen while covering the Steel. The referee’s poor messaging contributed directly, as he set an inconsistent, confused tone.

If USL wants to be a credible Division Two league, it must significantly upgrade the quality of its officiating crews.

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