Analysis / USL - Philadelphia Union II

Earnie Stewart’s Bethlehem legacy

Feature Photo: Courtesy of Jaime Heim BSFC Communications

On the other side of the mountain from Bethlehem city proper and Lehigh University’s main campus, Earnie Stewart watched his last game as Sporting Director of Philadelphia Union and Bethlehem Steel FC Sunday July 29 against MLS 2 side Atlanta United 2.

Mbaizo 7/29/18 v Atl 2
Courtesy Jaime Heim BSFC Communications

He sat by himself unobtrusively below the north entrance to the shade-providing west stands superstructure. We do not know how long he stayed.

In the 65th minute, a detail of Bethlehem’s 2018 season, anticipated by head coach Brendan Burke as far back as the first day of official Bethlehem practice on January 30, finally fell into place. All four of the Steel’s new African players were on a game-pitch together.

The detail

Coach Burke had made his second substitution of the day, and brought on Michee Ngalina for Chris Nanco at attacking flank midfield.

Five minutes earlier Burke had made his first substitution, Faris (Moumbanga) for Aidan Apodaca at striker. So when Ngalina entered, the four Africans were on the pitch. Olivier Mbaizo and Prosper Chiluya had started the match at right back and left back and were still playing.

Chiluya 7/29/18 v Atl 2
Courtesy Jaime Heim BSFC Communications

By definition unfinished

That on the Sporting Director’s last visit he saw Bethlehem’s 2018 African project completed highlights the on-going nature of the job he’s leaving.

Only the future will tell us whether 2018’s African connection is a continuing trend or a one-time event, just as only the future knows whether any of the four will someday start consistently for Philadelphia Union. One has signed with the first-team, and a second has appeared twice in its non-league matches in addition to practicing extensively with the Union, so the future’s potential is being assessed vigorously.

Ngalina 7/29/18 v Atl 2
Courtesy Jaime Heim BSFC Communications

Stewart has said elsewhere that his data analytics people now have data on 18 countries. Whether any of those 18 are Cameroon, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa, not Congo-Brazzaville) the public does not know.

Brendan Burke has said three of this year’s four came to the club through Rainbow FC, and the fourth – the loan – came through a first team scout. PSP has met and twice talked with a scout who is from Mali, but does not know whether the scout had any involvement with the player in question. No other details are public.

 

These are the four young men:

  • Olivier Mbaizo, nearly 21-years-old, a right back from Cameroon, Steel signing 1/22/18 and Union signing 4/17/18.
  • Prosper Chiluya, 20 year old left back from Zambia, on loan from Kafue Celtic FC, signed 02/20/18.
  • Michee Ngalina, 18-year-old flank midfielder from Congo-Kinshasa, signed 4/25/18.
  • Faris (Moumbagna), 18-year-old striker from Cameroon, signed 7/16/18.

Faris 7/29/18 v Atl 2
Courtesy Jaime Heim BSFC Communications

Legacy

On the long mantel piece of Earlham Hall’s basement dining room at the college of the same name in Richmond, IN is the Quaker quote from the sect’s earliest days, “They gathered sticks, kindled a fire, and left it burning.” That should be Earnie Stewart’s Steel epitaph.

Bethlehem’s new African players are one of the overall legacy’s burning sticks.

4 Comments

  1. Interesting piece. Africa seems to be a place that MLS does not have many inroads and that is a shame. There are many great players there and I think it would be smart for the Union to try and get a foothold in some of these countries/developmental clubs there before the rest of the league does.

  2. Union have apparently selected their next sporting director to replace Stewart… https://www.philadelphiaunion.com/post/2018/08/01/union-update-our-next-sporting-director

  3. In today’s weekly conference call, coach Burke said he had not met the new man.

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