USL Match report

Match report: Birmingham Legion 0-2 Bethlehem Steel

Photo: Rob Simmons

After a 21-hour weather postponement, on the eastern edge of Tornado Alley Sunday afternoon Bethlehem Steel FC defeated expansion side Birmingham Legion FC 2-0 in the first professional soccer game ever played in the southern steel city. Steel midfielder Zach Zandi did not earn an assist on Kacper Przybylko ‘s opening goal in the fifty-second minute because the German’s first shot rebounded off the Legion’s goalkeeper, Trevor Spangenberg. However he created the chance for the original shot, and then he himself scored the clincher in the sixty eighth minute from just outside the box on a far post curler delivered by Matt Real.

In the match’s first 20 minutes, Bethlehem’s high pressure in the midfield seemed to control the Alabamians somewhat.  Thereafter, the statistics say the Legion held more of the ball.  And they out shot Bethlehem 13 to 10.  But with four Bethlehem had one more shot on goal. In the second portion of the first half Birmingham had some good chances not taken.  Bethlehem’s best was a James Chambers free kick, the rebound from which was put wide by Saed Diaz.

In the game’s last quarter of an hour, the Legion periodically laid siege to Steel keeper Matt Freese’s goal, but several key blocks by Steel defenders preserved the clean sheet. The single most important clearance came in the ninth minute when a Ben Ofeimu slide tackle cleared a ball near the six yard line that could have resulted in the opening goal for Birmingham.

Birmingham deliberately tested Bethlehem’s right wingback, 18-year-old Issa Rayyan playing his first professional game, by deploying Femi Hollinger-Janzen against him after Janzen had no success against Real.  But the Union Academy alumnus not only met the challenge of Janzen’s speed and experience but made several attacking forays of his own.

As expected in an opening game for both the season and the system, pressure diminished as time passed. The only way to condition for games is to play them. Bethlehem played nine and Birmingham — as far as we know — played only four this preseason.  Ernst Tanner’s gegen-press remains primarily an opportunity rather than a reality for the full 90.

In the end it was Przybylko’s poise in the box to score his own rebound that turned the match, and Zandi adding the second created a reasonable Steel expectation of success.

The challenges will only increase as Steel FC host North Carolina next Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.  North Carolina defeated current USL Cup holders Louisville in its opener 4-1.

Three Things:

Surprise:  Bethlehem has undergone extensive changes so neither team knew what it would face. In such situations, many coaches cautiously defend at first to see what they can learn. Not Brendan Burke. Massively renovated Bethlehem tried to be on brand-new Birmingham’s throat from the jump. Surprise is the greatest tactical advantage there is, and Steel FC used it.

Game Roster mean age: Unofficially, the ages of the 14 players who saw action for Bethlehem – weighted by the minutes they actually played – produced an average age of 21.6.  Chambers is oldest at 32. DeVries is youngest at 16.  Kacper Przybylko is nearly 26.

An all teenage defense: The wingbacks and center backs were 19, 19,18 and 18 from left to right, making the first-team look like greybeards.Goalkeeper Freese was the oldest defender at 20.


Bethlehem (4-2-2-2) L-R: Matt Freese*; Matt Real*, Jamoi Topey, Ben Ofeimu, Issa Rayyan; James Chambers ©, Chavany Willis; Zach Zandi (Jack DeVries^ 93’), Anthony Fontana*; Saed Diaz (Cole Turner^ 88’), Kacper Przybylko* ) Shanyder Borgelin^ 92’). Unused substitutes: Tomas Romero^; Walter Cortes, Nate Harriel^.  * = Union player (5) ^ = Academy player (4)  Injury report: Questionable: Faris, Steve Kingue Out: Selmir Miscic  Unknown: Michee Ngalina, Yomi Scintu. 

Birmingham Line-up (4-2-3-1):Trevor Spangenberg; Kyle Culbertson, Marcel Appiah, Kyle Fisher, Eric Avila; Mikey Lopez ©, Daigo Kobayashi (Marcos Ugarte 87’); Daniel Johnson, Prosper Kasim (Gael Mabiala 90’); Femi Hollinger-Janzen (Tyler Turner 72’), Chandler Hoffman. Unused substitutes:; Joe Nasco; Mathieu Laurent, Ben Kucera, Tyler Savitsky.  Injured: Matt Oekel.


Bethlehem      52ndmin       Przybylko

Bethlehem      68thmin       Zandi (Real)


Birmingham    Yellow         42ndmin        Lopez (foul)

Birmingham    Yellow         71st  min       Hollinger-Janzen (foul)

Bethlehem      Yellow         76thmin         Diaz (handball)

Birmingham    Yellow         94thmin         Avila (foul)


Officials: Ref: Ismir Pekmic    AR1: Zach Mcwhorter   AR2: Jonathan Smith    4TH:  Ronald Ware





  1. Atleast one of our teams don’t suck.

    Also if Burke keeps this up and produces results with a young team also going through changes, I would think having him replace Curtin becomes a real argument.

  2. From the highlights, Birmingham Legion FC looked dangerous and played some beautiful football. That opening sequence on the highlights was lovely.

  3. Bring Steel Back to Bethlehem says:

    Trying really hard to care this season. A 2-0 win on the road with a very young roster and new formation helps keep my interest. As the first person said, at some point you have to consider Burke taking over the first team.

    People should check out the clip on reddit of the bit of skill between Chambers and Fontana. It’s gone somewhat viral. At least as viral as a BSFC clip can go.

    Wish I was heading to Goodman next weekend…

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