Philadelphia Union II

With many roster needs, Bethlehem remains silent

Since late October’s squad cuts, Bethlehem Steel FC has announced no further roster moves.

That is surprising, since the Steel’s roster currently numbers six, with two being logical possibilities to replace departed Union attackers.

The current roster has no center backs, and there are none with USL experience from the Academy. Also, the potential attacking departures would leave the roster with no strikers. The club might spin it as tremendous opportunities for Academy players to step up, but on-pitch chasms and crevasses yawn.

By Christmas last offseason, two major moves had been announced. Captain and defensive center mid James Chambers signed his new multi-year contract December 5, and center back Hugh Roberts joined up December 23.

Possible reasons

Two circumstances explain why this offseason has been less active than last.

Perhaps Steel roster inactivity flows from the first team’s 2018 roster situation being in greater flux than it was for 2017. Maybe this year the farm team’s roster needs to fall into place only after the first team’s has done so.

More substantively, the United Soccer League’s 2018 situation is more fluid than its propaganda facade of automaton-like expansion, success and profit would have the general public believe.

  • Vancouver Whitecaps 2, one of the so-called MLS 2 sides, has folded. The parent club has affiliated with USL 2018 expansion team Fresno instead.
  • The Rochester Rhinos, historically a pillar of the league, will remain “in good standing” but are not fielding a 2018 team for financial reasons, thus explaining why coach Bob Lilley and some stalwart players have left or are leaving.
  • Former NASL club North Carolina FC has joined, following U.S. Soccer’s demotion of NASL from Division II status.
  • Speculatively, NASL’s probable demise – the courts did not grant timely relief against U.S. Soccer’s decision; both Edmonton (at the professional level) and San Francisco have folded; and only seven teams survive as of this writing – suggests USL might acquire Indianapolis, San Diego, California and/or Jacksonville if ownerships there wish to continue. (Puerto Rico fits more economically in a Caribbean league.)
  • And, tensions between the independent sides and the wholly-owned MLS affiliates persist. For instance, there has been uncertainty about the league’s minimum roster size – and therefore salary budgets – earlier this offseason.
A clue

A bit of roiling fluidity appeared unannounced on the USL website earlier this month.

Under the “Teams” drop down menu,  logos and names are no longer arranged into Eastern and Western conferences. They now lineup alphabetically.

Because Vancouver 2’s death, Rochester’s suspended animation, and the newly added five sides, at a minimum the Eastern conference and the Western conference will realign. A more radical change, mentioned last year to reduce travel costs and intensify regional rivalries, would be a three-way division into Northeastern, South Central, and Western conferences. For 2018, the current 33 teams would divide easily by three.

Deja vu all over again

In six weeks, Bethlehem opens training camp (Feb 2). Among other things, a schedule has to be created so tickets can be sold. Conference realignment necessarily precedes scheduling.

As last offseason when its NASL crisis was playing out, Manager of Ticket Sales and Fan Service Gio Fricchione and Director of Ticket Sales Don Wilson may be selling vouchers rather than single-event, date-and-time tickets in January, February, and into March.


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    The ENTIRE team should be Academy players.
    The fact there are many roster holes is a WTF for me.
    It’s all backwards. That game day roster should be made up of 15-19 year old Kids every week playing at Talen.
    It’s a freaking money drain any other way.

    • Absolutely. This might actually be a place to start in questioning the whole academy plan that the Union have. I’d start with Stewart. Why aren’t more kids getting chances at Steel? Steel are in no way shape or form about competition. Nor should they be. Totally agree the squad should be teenagers getting tested against top competition. I mean, look at City trotting out 17-year-old Phil Foden. Kid looks like he’s yet to hit puberty. Same with Everton’s Tom Davies. No idea why we baby these kids so much. It’s not just the Union, either.

      • If you followed last year, we fielded many academy kids… Against Pittsburgh there were 4 of them of the pitch and the WHOLE bench was academy . also Fontana got his contract and so did Real. What more do you want? Shoild I mention Trusty or Jones?

  2. Todd H Forry says:

    As romantic a notion of playing only academy players is, this would be financially disastrous. People come out to see their team play their stars and compete every week. No one is going to come out and watch a bunch of 15-17 year old kids get blown off the pitch by mature adult men. Remember Tomas Romero who got the start in goal while Our regular keeper McGuire was playing backup with the Union? While he did ok for a match or so, his GAA and save % showed he was drastically overmatched by superior competition. I don’t mind seeing one or two academy players sprinkled in amongst veterans every week, but people come out to see proven, veteran players who give the team the best chance to win every week.

    • Do they come out to see vets play? If I lived closer to Lehigh, I think I’d be a lot more interested to see a side composed of potential talent than one featuring guys whose best years are going to be spent in the USL. I get that the Steel are a business, but the priority has to be making sure the talent pipeline to the first team is as good as it can possibly be.

      • The problem is that most of the people who come out to the matches are not hard core followers of US soccer or the academy. They are Suzy soccer mom with her 2 kids that play pee wee or youth soccer. They want to see Maurice Edu from his rehab start or Corey Burke who plays for Jamaica. They want to see a team on the pitch comprised of mostly name players who are competitive. People come to see a winner. You put out a team that consistently loses against superior competition and people will stop coming.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      No sir, patently incorrect.
      What’s financially disastrous is forcing a USL team of MLS hopefuls down the Lehigh Valleys throat.
      If it matters that much to Lehigh to have Steel…. find the investors and start your own USL team.
      In the meantime, yes if you are trying to be a first tier MLS franchise you absolutely need your 15-17 year old kids getting eaten alive by USL level mens’ teams at Talen Energy Stadium where there is zero to no cost to the parent franchise.
      some of those players go to U of Indiana…. some of them feature for the first team at 17 and are actually ready to do so.
      End of Story.

      • Most college level players play at Reading United in the PDL where they are more evenly matched with competition, There is a reason it’s called the professional development league.

      • Funny you say USL team play at Talen. You also argue for pro/relegation which theoretically isn’t the so_called first team already at USL level?
        Demote the union to USL status, get rid of anyone over 20 then you can be happy. And play the Steel and Todd will be happy.
        And me…I will be happy when Philly has a true men’s and women’s teams playing anywhere else but Chester or Camden, and without the inappropriate name on the jerseys.

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        all the things wrong with this team, and your still hung up on the sponsor name?

      • Dan C, never let facts stand in the way of a good tantrum. We must always worry about what others might think. Sad.

  3. Of all the “MLS2” teams (Vancouver, LA II, Red Bull II etc) the Steel have the best attendance because it is a separate entity and brand. Vancouver is even closing their II squad and the attendance at other teams is pretty bad. I mean TFC II had 150 people at one game! The Steel lead the MLS2 squads about 3,000 a game, it needs to improve but that is a solid start. I seriously doubt a USL game at Talen would get anywhere near 3,000 or the Steel’s overall goal of 5,000.

    Further, the Union simply cannot pull out of the Lehigh Valley now. They would be leaving a vacuum for not only future fans but future players. Don’t think for a second that NYCFC and Red Bull aren’t salivating at the thought of the Union pulling out – leaving a VERY pissed off fan base in Bethlehem and the entire valley … Future players also will not forget the Union giving up on them.

    I do agree, however, that the majority of the team should be Academy kids and thankfully for a large stretch it was last year. Hell, the Steel had a 16 year old goalie play and play well while McGuire was backing up John McCarthy.

    All this being said, I strongly encourage you to attend a Steel game in 2018. It is a very passionate fan base and it is important for fans of the parent club to recognize them … go to game, enjoy Bethlehem for a day … I promise it will be worth it!

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Start ‘your’ own Lehigh Valley USL team and guess what….
      ….partner with Lehigh Valley United.

      • I’ll get right on that … in the meantime, I would very much welcome a discussion on how the Union would recover from pulling out of the Lehigh Valley. For the record, I am not from the Lehigh Valley, I live in Philadelphia but have seen what the Steel can provide – ie today’s signing of Cory Burke. I think that if given the right environment that the Steel can continue to be a great asset for the Union – far more than simply creating a “Union II” squad that plays in a very empty Talen Energy Stadium.

        Pulling out now would set the growth of the Union brand back a number of years and, as I previously stated, would create a dangerous vacuum for both fans and talent which two of our closest rivals would take full advantage of.

        I welcome a counter argument –

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