Philadelphia Union II

Bethlehem Steel: Progress at striker

Photos PSP archives

When asked how the team was doing after its recent 3-2 win over Pittsburgh, Bethlehem Steel captain James Chambers said in a brief after-practice chat, “The point of the [Bethlehem Steel player development] project is progress.”

He claimed it by comparing the performance at striker, pointing out how much better two men in particular are playing this year than last. In addition to the old-fashioned eye test, the numbers bear him out.


Cory Burke on the ball versus Cincinnati

Seku Conneh trapping it against Tampa Bay

The 2016 season had 30 games, and we use the first 30 games of 2017 to compare.

The numbers

Team:              Games            Pts                   Record             Goals For       Goals Against

2016                   30                28             6W – 10D – 14L        32                    43

2017                   30                43           12W –   7D – 11L         45                    43

increases                             +54%*       100% more wins        +41%

Cory Burke:      Games          Minutes      Goals   Assists Shots   Shots on Goal

2016                        20            1226             4            2          42         16

2017                        22            1786             9            2          54         22

increases                                 +22%*      +120%                +26%    +38

Seku Conneh:   Games         Minutes       Goals   Assists Shots   Shots on Goal

2016                         18              828              2            0        25         14

2017                          23            1637            10           2         45         21

increases                                   +64%*       +500%               +80%   +50%

* means average minutes per game

45 – 32 = 13;  13 = 8 + 5

Conneh has 8 more goals in 2017 than 2016.  Burke has 5 more this year than last. The increase from both, 13, equals that of the team, from 32 to 45.

The other goals produced last season from non-striker positions such as 2016 Derrick Jones at center mid with 5 and Ryan Richter at right back with the same, have been matched by non-striker positions this season. Here are the details.

  • James Chambers in 2017 has hit the net more often, 5 as compared to 3.
  • Santi Moar has bettered Eric Ayuk, 6 to 3.
  • As has Chris Nanco with 4.
  • Adam Najem surpasses Leo Fernandes 2 to 1, decisively if you consider his assists as well, 8 to none.
  • Aaron Jones matches 2016’s Fabian Herbers with 2.

And it is worth noting the season’s change in assists. Richter and Chambers led 2016 with 4 each.  In 2017 Najem has doubled Chambers with 8 and Moar has surpassed Richter by half with 6.  Chambers this year has only 1, reflecting his many fewer minutes at the number 10.

No April Fool

The season’s biggest offensive transformation first showed its face two-thirds of the way through the season opener against Rochester on April 1st, when coach Burke brought on player Burke and player Conneh and an 0-2 deficit became a 2-2 draw in roughly half an hour. The season’s results  show it was not a joke.

Speed, strength, weight and aggression took over the previously dominating Rochester defense, until Rochester coach Bob Lilley’s counter-move, Jochen Graf, headed home an at-the-death winner.

Incidentally, that same player started and scored Rochester’s 1-0 winner  off another header Tuesday night. Perhaps he should be christened “Steel’s Bane.”

There are other important ways in which the 2017 Steel are better than 2016’s pioneers.  But for those who like comparing numbers, none pressures the mind as relentlessly and predatorily as this year’s goal-scoring by the same strikers as last-year’s.

Standing pat has paid off.  Two players have grown and developed. As the captain said,  two days after his Gold Day for Pediatric Cancer photo standing next to Chris Nanco, that’s undisputable progress.


  1. Now, it’s still too early and I would be mad if he replaced Curtin, but THIS is the type of thing thats strengthens Burkes resume and makes him a viable MLS coach in a few years.

    THIS is the type of thing we should love to see and the type of thing Curtin could not provide in 3 years. Noticeable improvement in the same players. Young players making contributions to a playoff run. A formation that plays to our strengths and looks good.

    BSFC is passing the test, on and off the field, and Burke deserves a lot of credit.

  2. I support your caution. The role in Bethlehem is different. Coach Burke is supposed to take bold risks to both develop but also evaluate his young players appropriately. That emphasis is not as prominent in the first-team Head coach’ job Description I would suspect.
    Burke took a gamble April 1st taking off Charlie Davies and somebody else and sending on Conneh and Burke. He would not have done so had he not believed in them on the basis of practice and preseason, but all of us know that flying the plane solo the first time, or making a first professional start, or any other momentous, pressured first-time occasion, is a big deal.
    And the consequences of failure are less at that level.
    Another example of the difference between the two positions lies on Bethlehem’s substitutes’ bench this season with Yosef Samuel and Josh Heard.
    Josh is a Philly ball player, even tho’ he’s Welsh and comes from Canada. There is a defined ceiling to what he can do, but he’s always banging his head against that ceiling risking limbs and future to make a supreme effort to transcend it.
    Yoyo’s ceiling is less certain. Coach challenged him in preseason to improve the defensive aspects of his game, and the young man responded positively in practice. So Burke, as a teacher, had to give him an opportunity to prove himself at the next plateau of competitive challenge, even though he already had Mr. 110% on the bench. Yo-yo did well, and now Burke has two quality midfield reserves on his bench.
    The balance between development through risk-taking proven reliability is different between the two jobs.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      And we should mention Steve Hogan, Jeff Cook and Jay Cooney, Burke’s excellent assistants, for their share of credit.

  3. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Has not Curtin improved Ray Gaddis, Fabinho, warren Creavalle, brian Carroll, Ilsinho, c. J. Sapong, to restrict myself to both the current roster and the top of my head?
    No, he has not had universal success.
    But neither did Coach Burke in 2016, either in roster building or roster development. I do think 2017 has been much better in that regard, but we will know what the organization thinks when we see how many of this year’s 13 survive to the scout team for the academy 19s after the USL Season is over.

    • OSC, all but one of those players(C.J.) are irrelevant. Do you really want a coach that makes the bottom of your squad better while the middle to top players regress? I have to answer no to that one. Ray isn’t the future. Rosenberry was supposed to be but he was ground down playing ALL of last season, and mostly forgotten this one. Fabinho is less dumpster fire, more you never know which Fabi will show up. His future replacement did a decent job, but really made not much progress if any. Creavalle was a super-sub and is slightly less used than before. So push? Brian Carroll wasn’t improved by Curtin, he was just his normal self then adjusted his skill set to his age. So no, not on Curtin. Ilsinho is still inconsistent, still has trouble scoring and still can’t play 90 mins. So what improved? C.J. scored more goals, granted. The only way I see that is on Curtin, is the fact Curtin never adjusted to not having a #10 until this last stretch of the season so C.J. has been doing it all alone. Again, maybe, maybe a push. Some if not most of these guys will not be here next year. Most if not all are marginal MLS players that would unlikely start for any other team in the league. You can polish shit till it shines, but it still smells like, and is, shit.

  4. Don’t forget that with the depth of the first team roster there’s been a trickle down effect to Bethlehem. Meaning these players’ improvements can also to some degree be attributed to having better talent around them.

  5. What the hell is up with Fontana?

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