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Head coach Brendan Burke pleased despite lack of early wins

Photo: Earl Gardner

Bethlehem Steel FC fought back for a 1-1 draw against a dangerous FC Cincinnati team at Goodman Stadium Sunday. The third-straight home match concluded the longest home-stand of their 2018 USL season. Head coach Brendan Burke and his team earned just two points during that stretch. To date, Steel FC have earned just five out of a potential 12 home points so far, but Burke understands there are many positives to take forward for him and his club.

Head Coach Brendan Burke.

Home-stand is impressive but not enough W’s

In Sunday’s match against Cincinnati, Bethlehem racked up 14 total shots with 10 of those coming from inside the box – an aspect of Steel FC’s game which needed improvement. The increase in chances came against a Cincinnati team known throughout USL to house top-quality talent at every position. The draw ended Steel’s three-match home stretch with their best all-around performance since week one.

But whenever a team fails to earn three points at home, the words ‘disappointed’ and ‘frustrated’ become far too common during post-match interviews. Burke may not be thrilled by the lack of wins, but when asked about his team’s collective performances during at home this season, the Steel head coach focused on what has worked well for his team instead of lamenting the more-than-obvious negatives.

“We have one win and four good performances at home,” Burke said. “If everyone can stay focused on the quality of the performances and the chances that we are creating, that has to give us the belief that this will turn and soon.

“In short, my answer is yes, our performances — even shorthanded as we have been — have been the best I’ve seen in three years at home,” said Burke.

Chemistry is difficult to cultivate with roster shuffling and injuries

Defenders Josh Yaro, Matt Real, Olivier Mbaizo, and Richie Marquez were all hampered with injuries. Wingers Chris Nanco and Santi Moar weren’t 100 percent to start either. Fabinho then went down for Philadelphia Union, leading Real to scoop up his minutes and Steel a bit depleted along the back line. Real and fellow Academy graduate, center back Mark McKenzie, were also limited early on because they earned international youth call ups.

If that wasn’t enough adversity, midfielder and captain James Chambers went down with an injured knee in week three and hasn’t been a full participant at training since.

Still, Steel FC and Burke pressed on, relying on a heavy presence of first team players for depth through the season’s first five weeks. But the presence of first team and academy players is bound to tweak the chemistry of the crew a bit.

One Steel FC contracted player played all 450 minutes this season so far: Temple grad Matt Mahoney. Only two other Steel FC players have appeared in each match, Moar and Brandon Allen. And just three Steel FC players have logged over 250 total minutes so far: Mahoney, Prosper Chiluya, and Brandon Aubrey. All three are defenders who will compete for time against first team guys like Marquez, McKenzie, Mbaizo, Real, and Yaro.

For players like Mike Catalano and other rookies on the bench, trying to make great impressions during their inaugural campaigns remains extremely difficult. But as Chambers explained weeks earlier, it’ a matter of how those players deal with that frustration and whether or not they allow a negative mindset to take over. How they handle the unique adversities playing for a USL club involved with an MLS franchise provides will decide their fates.

Captain James Chambers ahead of Steel FC’s home opener. Photo courtesy of Rob Simmons.

“There’s going to be frustration from every single one of us at any given time… ” said Chambers. “So, it’s a case of [me] being a voice and a figure that [younger guys] can look to and get advice off, obviously, because it’s not ideal and we can’t all get frustrated,” he continued.

“We’re allowed to be frustrated by the circumstances but ultimately we can’t let it affect our development as players and also our growth as Steel as a team, a squad, or roster,” said Chambers.

So far, Catalano and the other Steel FC rookies have rallied as a group in hopes of gaining more playing time, and they remain cognizant of the bigger picture: competition breeds champions.

Mike Catalano vs FC Cincinnati. Photo courtesy of Bethlehem Steel FC.

“It’s frustrating not being able to have a part in that personally,” said Catalano after the draw to Charleston Battery. “And as a team, I know we all share that same mutual feeling, and it’s good motivation to get back to training and to keep working and to make sure that the next time that comes around, you have an opportunity to have a hand in the situation.”

Influx of young talent at central midfield

The first team continues to confidently roll out a central midfield grouping composed of three well-respected veterans, leaving the younger central midfielders like Anthony Fontana, Derrick Jones, and Adam Najem to compete with promising Academy player Brenden Aaronson for time with the Steel.

Burke provided some great insights on managing playing time as the USL coach in the Philadelphia organization. “I would start by saying that playing time with [Steel FC] is very valuable at any position because of the three levels of players involved,” said Burke referring to the first team, USL squad, and academy youngsters. “Right now, we just happen to have a number of players healthy and doing well for us in [the middle] of the field.”

The only hiccup for Burke is managing those Steel FC players who are forced to the sidelines while their chances to impress evaporate with each passing week.

“The players will naturally be frustrated when they aren’t able to express themselves with matches early in the season, but they have all handled it very well to date,” said Burke. “I have enjoyed working with this group immensely so far and I think they have a clear understanding that their number will be called soon,” continued Burke. “And when [they play] they’ll want to be focused and prepared to perform and impress us and the first team staff,” Burke said.

And as for the surplus of young talent at central midfield from the first team and academy, Burke remains both proud and delighted.

“I think it is a promising sign that this past weekends game featured two academy graduates who are now in the first team and a current academy player in the number 10 role.  We are really starting to see the mission to populate our first team roster with homegrown talent take shape,” said Burke.

That mission and its continued success relies upon the abilities of three distinct and separate groups of both amateur and professional athletes to put personal pride aside in favor of organizational success.

In other words, they must simply keep their heads down and work.


  1. Hey Matt
    Nice work and thanks!
    I read somewhere that Steel tried a different style of fitness game readiness this preseason. How did it go?

  2. From all accounts, there were no hiccups. I’ve been meaning to look into it.

  3. “Please despite lack of wins” could be written inside the jerseys of the whole franchise

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