Analysis / Philadelphia Union II

Two goals at Talen!: Player analysis after Pittsburgh

Feature screen capture courtesy USLC

Brendan Burke’s games against Bob Lilley’s teams have always been good measuring sticks for his squad’s progress. Twelve players saw the pitch Saturday night in a performance that surprised observers familiar with Bethlehem Steel FC in 2019.


Faris overpowers Pittsburgh’s Vancaeyezeele for the equalizer

Faris began the match with less than subtle applications of physical force to Pittsburgh defenders, just skirting an early yellow card, and adjusted himself to avoid the mustard. His equalizing header left his mark flat on the ground, as he cleanly powered home Issa Rayyan’s excellent cross. His defensive efforts remained strong until the last moments of the match when he was spent and substituted off in stoppage time. He commented afterward on his and Michee Ngalina’s determination to do better than they had against Memphis. They succeeded.

Ngalina strikes Zandi’s feed with the outside of his right foot for the lead-taker.

Michee Ngalina threatened the space behind the Pittsburgh back line the entire match. He was known to Riverhounds coach Bob Lilley from last season, but the advance warning did little good. His defensive effort remained energetic and intelligent all night. Its coordination with his strike partner was clear and effective. His goal, taken with the outside of his right foot off the line of the penalty box to just below the bar, is one of five candidates for goal of the week. (Start at minute 1:15.)

Faris and Ngalina for the first time actualized their potential when playing as dual strikers. Ernst Tanner should be smiling quietly. One game does not make a consistent pattern, but the Pittsburgh performance was significantly better than the Memphis one.

Shanyder Borgelin was Bethlehem’s only substitute, coming on for Faris in the first minute of stoppage time as fresh legs.


Crucial to holding Pittsburgh to a draw was captain James Chambers’ ability to discommode Pittsburgh striker Steeven Dos Santos. His strength and athleticism meant the taller Cape Verdean had less effect than intended when playing in the attacking center midfielder’s customary space as a hold-and-distribute 9. Chambers continued to need to drop back into the defensive line to help distribute the ball into the attack. His ability to find the entry pass does not make it into formal statistics, but remains of immeasurable value.

The other three midfielders, playing together for a second straight game, took the captain’s entry passes and converted them into attacks. For the first 20 minutes, Pittsburgh high-pressured them out of their rhythms. After that they helped break that pressure and sustained counters direct enough and fast enough that they could not be caught from behind.

Chavany Willis in particular impressed with his ability to turn under pressure and defeat the first defender on the dribble, doing so consistently all game. Once free he found creative passes, tying Zandi for the team lead in “chances created” for the match with two.

Anthony Fontana and Zach Zandi both combined well with Willis and Chambers and found both the wingbacks Issa Rayyan and Walter Cortes going into the counterattacks. Their resolute, instantaneous response to Pittsburgh’s early goal was essential to Faris’s equalizer and Ngalina’s lead-taker. And the defensive work from both was essential to surviving the Steel City-ers strivings for the win in the second half.

Wing backs

Walter Cortes was a bit surprised in the early moments by the Riverhounds physicality and intensity. By the 20th minute he had adapted and gave the best display of left-back attacking influence of his young Steel FC career, being credited with creating a chance off a cross and being called for offsides once.  He, Fontana, and Matt Real interchanged the ball effectively on the left touchline and usually created entries for Faris and Ngalina, or Zandi behind them.

On the other side of the field Issa Rayyan showed speed and intelligence – neither a surprise to knowledgeable observers – and also the benefits of having a former attacking dribbler at the position. Repeatedly, Rayyan defeated his marker on the dribble when he had no other recourse, flying in face of decades of coaching instinct that dribbling out of the back is a recipe for trouble. But the reigning ACC freshman of the year made it work every time. And he got away with a heart-stopping 60- yard square ball across the defensive third in face of an onrushing opponent. That’s confidence in one’s judgment, skill, and the intended recipient.

Center backs

Jamoi Topey’s distribution continued to be missed as he remained in Jamaica to address a visa issue after the national team’s return from Costa Rica a week ago yesterday.

Matt Real filled in at left center back. The first-team reserve left back’s offensive inexperience in the position was clear. But his feel for stepping forward aggressively to defend was relentless, accurate, and superb. Real repeatedly preserved Bethlehem’s point in the helter-skelter chaos of the last quarter of an hour. He lacks the stature required to play the position regularly, but he can be proud of meeting the challenge well against a tough opponent. There is now some positional versatility in Bethlehem’s back line, a necessary in-game quality for a small squad.

Ben Ofeimu did his usual defensive things effectively all match. Most important for his own peace of mind, he made no game-costing mistakes. He heard coach Burke’s message that Memphis was just a blip and did his job with confidence, competence, and communication. The technical staff will find things for him to work on, and among those will be his long-range offensive entry-passing.  But he and Real acted as though they had been playing center back together for a long time, instead of never.

Goal Keeper

Carlos Miguel Coronel has now saved two consecutive penalties in stoppage times at the ends of first halves (North Carolina). He pogoes up and down to the cross bar with his arms wide as the shooter gathers himself, making himself a difficult read .

During the run of play he reads a sweeper-keeper’s responsibilities excellently, and executes them outside the box with the technical skills of a field player, including with his head. His touches are not wild clearances but controlled attempts to create entry passes. Connoisseurs of goal-keeping a la Blake may think Coronel sometimes does not catch and absorb that which should be caught and absorbed, instead of parried away for rebounds. The comparison needs to remember that Jamaica’s captain has superb hands.

A final point

Coach Burke’s sides have met coach Lilley’s eight times now in USL. Three times the Hall of Famer’s team has come from behind to tie, twice back in 2016 with Rochester and this past Saturday night. The fourth draw saw Bethlehem come back in the 2018 quarterfinal on Chamber’s now-legendary free kick, and then advance out of the draw on penalties. But Bethlehem has yet to win outright.

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