Philadelphia Union II

Meaningful late-October soccer, in Louisville

This Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Louisville Slugger Field, Bethlehem Steel will enter a world only their coaches, their captain, and Hugh Roberts have experienced. They begin the first single-elimination playoff round in an attempt to emulate the historic version of Bethlehem Steel FC.

Louisville City FC, while only a year older than the Steel, have been to the playoffs three times. They have experienced the intensity of the quantum leap directly. Only two players on the Steel can say that for fully professional matches.

Let’s look at the teams’ two regular season encounters.

August 20, 2017

The teams met the first time this year at Goodman Stadium, and midway through the first half Louisville forward Luke Spencer scored twice on headers from free kicks. His goals built a lead that the Steel could not overcome. Richie Marquez pulled one back later in the half, but in the 84th Cameron Lancaster, Spencer’s substitute, sealed the three points, on a header also from a free kick. All three free kicks were taken by City left back Oscar Jimenez, but Jimenez was credited with only two assists because of a defensive mishandle on the middle one.

James Chambers’ memory is correct that while Louisville were the better side, the Steel belonged on the same field with the men from Kentucky. That match was not a lopsided blowout.

September 15, 2017

The Steel clearly learned from the August experience because in the return match in Louisville, they played City FC even. Louisville had to rally twice to earn a point – first after a Cory Burke penalty and the second after a Santi Moar tap-in. The Steel controlled Spencer – thank you, Hugh Roberts – but also conceded a penalty kick. Then Jimenez scored on a free kick.

The mighty mites of Bethlehem’s attacking midfield – Moar, Adam Najem and Chris Nanco – played much better than they did in the first match against Louisville (The first Louisville tilt was Maurice Edu’s first 2017 appearance with the Steel and Anthony Fontana replaced him after half an hour, with Chambers shifting from the 10 to the 6.)

Mr. Roberts provided better aerial defense, as neither Louisville goal came from the air.

October 20, 2017

Beating Louisville will take excellent performances across the board from every Steel person in uniform, whether they wear a game kit, practice kit, or dress collar shirt and tie.

As of yesterday, Friday’s Louisville weather should see a high in the mid-70s and a low in the mid-50s. The probability of precipitation 10%, and winds should be light out of the SSE. Sundown will occur a few minutes before tap-off, so temperatures will drop during the game. Humidity will be in the very low 60%s and the game conditions look good.

Chris Sherman, PSP’s statistical expert, estimates the Steel’s odds of winning at 28% give or take a fraction. His distribution chart of final score probabilities, reflects that in their four historical encounters neither team has ever blown out the other – two draws and two close Steel losses. He reminds us that in a single elimination tournament draws after 90 minutes go to extra time and if necessary, penalty kicks. He has adjusted his calculations accordingly.

We hope that Brendan Burke got strong input in choosing his best possible lineup and that he made those decisions early, so he has a decent opportunity to prepare his group before they board the plane. All yellow card accumulations disappear for the playoffs, so everyone is available. That includes Chambers and Burke who otherwise would have been disqualified for yellow card accumulation after their bookings against St. Louis. Teamwork and unity are organization mantras, and they should take precedence for the organization’s only meaningful game of the week.

Louisville has a strong line-up, and we have already mentioned leading scorer Spencer and free kick specialist Jimenez. A third player to watch is pacey former Richmond Kicker midfielder/forward Brian Ownby. He did not figure in the August game at Goodman and came on as a substitute in Kentucky. His speed and smarts will add significant stress to the Steel defense, interchangeably on the flank and in the center since he is highly competent in a fluid attacking system. Expect coach James O’Connor to start him, as in single-elimination fully deploying maximum strength is the usual approach.

A guess

We think this game-day roster will fly west, because it has been the most cohesive and successful on the road recently.

Starter Bench
GK Jake McGuire Tomas Romero
RB Aaron Jones  
RCB Hugh Roberts Matt Mahoney
LCB Auston Trusty  
LB Matt Real Charlie Reymann
DCM James Chambers   
CM Derrick Jones Michael Pellegrino
RM Santi Moar Chris Nanco
ACM Adam Najem BrendenAaronson
LM Cory Burke Yosef Samuel
S Seku Conneh  

The Steel have won six times away from home this year, quite good as PSP has discussed before. The Steel have the best 8th-place away winning percentage among fully professional soccer teams north of the Rio Grande. And the boys remain fearless. They will play to win.

Parenthetical note:

The best away winning percentage — nearly 80 — of any pro team in the U.S. or Canada is the NASL’s Miami FC with their 11 victories.  They have 4 more wins than Toronto in 3 fewer away games.


  1. Cosmos Original says:

    Hey Tim.

    Maybe you could ask those affiliated if the ‘reports’ from Karthik are true. Multiple USL clubs preparing to fold.
    And if so is it temporary or permanent.

    • Given that the Steel are wholly-owned by the Union, the good questions you ask require sources there, and I do not have such.
      My Bethlehem sources would answer me that my questions were first-team matters.
      There is no evidence — direct, indirect, or indirectly indirect — that any of the people I talk with at the Steel have any knowledge of the Steel changing its current status. I will not ask them until Friday’s result is known as they do not need distractions at the moment.
      Pay attention to Brian Strauss over the next several days. When he says its true, it will be time to investigate.

  2. What happened to Fontana?

  3. #savethecrew
    We need your help. If you believe in the fans of MLS, and what MLS means to the fans, help us show this greedy ‘Mergers & Acquistions Specialist’ Anthony Precourt that he has no place in MLS.
    Ways to help
    Show your solidarity this Sunday by wearing yellow to the game
    Bring signs denouncing Precourt (and Garber who is entirely complicit)
    At minute 10 (Crew was the first of the original 10 teams in MLS) begin a Columbus Crew chant – i.g. clap,clap,clap COLUMBUS
    Anything else that you can do that would show the league that this is not the way to do things in MLS!

  4. Carving out my Friday night around this.

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