Feature / Philadelphia Union II

The Steel develop the Union’s future

Photo Credit:Rob Simmons

It’s not really news to anyone, but the Bethlehem Steel have a strong focus on youth development to build the Union. Ernst Tanner has made it clear that the organization plans to focus on youth development for the future. Auston Trusty, Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson are all perfect examples of this idea.

For the last four years, the Steel have existed as the Union’s “farm team”. Many Steel players come straight from the Union academy as local teenagers. Here’s who Brendan Burke has been developing for the Union to bring up in the next few years.

Ben Ofeimu

Ofeimu joined the Steel last season from the Union academy at age 17. In the 12 matches he played in, he started nine and scored a goal last year. This year, Ofeimu officially signed with Bethlehem, making him the first professional signing of a player that has completed the Union Academy’s Residency Program.

Ben Ofiemu in 2018, courtesy of Bethlehem Steel Communications

Considered on of the academy’s rising stars, he is a regular in Burke’s back line as a center back, starting all eight matches he has played in. As one of the more experienced center backs for Bethlehem, Ofeimu is often paired with Mbaizo, another experienced player. While big and physically imposing, Ofeimu is able to clear the ball well and read attacking plays to block shots, but he’s often more of a quiet, unmentioned defender. Ofeimu’s stats never really spoke to his true abilities, and his name is rarely mentioned by announcers and broadcasters, but it’s not really a problem, because he still does what’s necessary for the Steel to remain competitive.

Issa Rayyan

Rayyan has been playing for the Steel since 2017. He began playing for Bethlehem two years ago as a Union academy player, when he was 16 years old. He only made two appearances in 2017, both as a substitute. In 2018, Rayyan played for Duke University his freshman year and was named the ACC Freshman of the Year.

This year, the big news for the Steel was Rayyan did not return to Duke. Instead, he signed with Bethlehem this season. And he’s had a rollercoaster of a year with the Steel this season. Technically a midfielder, Rayyan has played in six matches this year on the back line and is one of the team’s strongest playmakers. Recently, he’s missed a few matches due to injury, and his absence has been apparent as the Steel have struggled to score goals and generate much offense on the counterattack.

Shanyder Borgelin

A recent academy graduate, Borgelin signed on with the Steel in April. Borgelin spent two years in the Union’s academy, playing with the U16/17 and U18/19 squads. Over the course of his two seasons with the academy as a forward, he made 39 appearances, 19 starts and scored 14 goals.

Photo by Matt Ralph

This season, Borgelin has mostly made appearances as a substitute, playing in five matches and starting in one. He is yet to score any goals, but it’s not from a lack of trying. Borgelin often makes his appearances late in games, during the final back-and-forth efforts in an attempt to score a late goal, and he has the speed and ball control to be a real threat in that time.

Cole Turner

Turner is still in the Union academy. This year, he verbally committed to play soccer at the US Naval Academy next season. At just 17 years old, Burke likes to have Turner on his 18-man roster on match days. Probably because Turner is a bit versatile. Listed as a midfielder, Burke often uses the academy player as a center back because he seems very defensive minded and can clear the ball and create possible counterattacks for the Steel.

Photo by Philadelphia Union

Turner got his first start in Bethlehem’s last match against the Indy Eleven almost two weeks ago, and was listed as a center back with Ofeimu. In a match full of defensive blunders and missteps, Turner and Ofeimu were the two more solid defenders, with the pair making some much needed clearances and passes that led to some of the Steel’s counterattacks during the match. Playing him to his strengths is wise, and while young, he has a good mind for defense, reading plays well to block shots.

Jack de Vries

Also just 17 years old, de Vries is still in the Union academy as well. Last year, de Vries made 14 appearances, 11 starts and scored a total of five goals combined for the Union U16/17 and U18/19 academy squads as a forward. At the end of April, he was called up to to the U17 USMNT for the the 2019 Concacaf U-17 Championship that begins today. This year, de Vries verbally committed to play for the University of Virginia next season.

This season for the Steel, de Vries has made two starts in three appearances, totaling 120 minutes played. While he hasn’t scored any goals yet, like Borgelin, it’s not from lack of trying. De Vries is great at controlling the ball and a strong playmaker for the Steel. If you haven’t seen what he did two weeks ago in the loss against the Charlotte Independence, it’s one of his best highlights.

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