Philadelphia Union II / Season Previews / Union

The Union and the Steel’s relationship in 2019

Photo courtesy Bethlehem Steel

Editor’s note: This piece is part of our week-long series previewing the 2019 Philadelphia Union season. For the full series, click here.

Heading into the fourth season as the Union’s official USL Championship affiliate, Bethlehem Steel’s relationship with the Union has changed in a few ways this year.

For the last two years, the Steel have been used as more of a training team for the players who are younger, injured or just need a little more time on the second team before moving up to the Union. Think back to high school varsity and junior varsity teams, where the homegrowns and academy players played for Bethlehem before moving on to the Union. But that’s all the Steel have really been to the Union, a separate farm team.

As we enter the 2019 season in just a few days, it’s clear that the Union and the Steel’s relationship will be a bit different this year because of Ernst Tanner. The new sporting director is looking to develop a stronger relationship between the first and second team, a more unified organization that mutually benefits both clubs.


This was the most active preseason for the Steel and the first year they traveled to Florida for preseason training with the Union. Why? Ernst Tanner. Brendan Burke has mentioned that Bethlehem joining the first team in Florida was Tanner really getting behind the single organization mentality.

Pros: Well, the obvious is that both clubs had more opportunity to train with each other. The Union could test out Steel players while the Steel could focus on developing younger players, both getting a better idea of who can be called up when needed. Following similar formations allows for first team players to easily transition into the Bethlehem’s lineup, while the Steel can still develop their younger players in the Union’s formation to easily transition to the first team.

Cons: Having both clubs use the same formation might not lead to success for both clubs. Burke had success in shaking things up match to match and while he may not be expected to use the same formation or lineup every match, preseason might be indicative of Tanner wanting some more consistency in the Steel’s lineups this season.

Stadium sharing

Does the Steel using Talen Energy Stadium this season really impact the Union and Steel’s relationship? Of course it does, sharing a stadium has implications for both clubs. The biggest thing is that the Philadelphia Union welcoming the Bethlehem Steel to their stadium in Chester sends a message. It says that the clubs really are just one big happy organization.

This is not a permanent solution for the Steel, the club wants to return to the Lehigh Valley. Dan talked about some stadium possibilities and the implications of the Steel leaving Bethlehem, but Tanner has used the lack of stadium lights to fit his message of a single organization.

Pros: With the Union supporting the Steel, will this increase ticket sales for Steel matches? Potentially, there are a few back-to-back Union and Steel matches on Saturdays and Sundays this season that could lead to higher attendance or at the very least, some more awareness of the Steel. Not to mention, costs of using and maintaining one stadium is usually less than two.

Cons: With the Union supporting the Steel, will this increase ticket sales for Steel matches? Probably not, Bethlehem fans are not going to want to travel more than 70 miles to see the Steel play. This can really hurt the Steel’s gaining popularity and momentum, vast open stadium seats never really look good.

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