Assessing Bethlehem’s contract players at mid-season

Feature screen capture courtesy ESPN+

A player development process is a continuous flow, with new players joining it every season via signed contracts or on loan.

In principle, the organization’s time frame for assessment is 12-24-months.  During that time, a player must demonstrate ability to play a role with the first team. The roles range from being a practice “benchy” to an MLS star.


Coach Burke is on record as wanting eight to ten games fairly to assess a player’s potential, to give players and judges time to overcome nerves and unfamiliarity, discount “flash-in-the-pan” performance, discover sustainability, and face a variety of opponents’ styles and quality levels.

Burke is also on-record saying that keeping a player who has no chance at the first team is unfair.

In 2019 there are three categories of players on Steel FC’s game-day rosters.

  • Those who have advanced to the first team for practice, but who get game minutes with Bethlehem.
  • Those who signed old Bethlehem contracts in 2018 and new ones in 2019.
  • Those on loan to the Steel itself this season.

We considered the first-teamers June 6 and will consider the loans next week. We address Bethlehem’s USLC contracted players now.

Old contracts (3)

Faris: Faris is 18 years old from Yaounde, Cameroon and a physically imposing striker at 6’1” and 165 pounds. Physically, he possesses a full range of striker’s tools and is learning well how to use them.  He usually creates first-step separation, absorbs legal physical challenges well, has excellent technical skill, and a willingness to “bull-rush” multiple defenders like Reggie White of the NFL.

He is learning the “effort mentality” the organization demands, not so much within a single game as over the sustained course of many. When well-rested, he is now a difference-maker during the run of play in USLC. Ken Tribbett, Nashville SC’s captain, acknowledged that when, at the end of the recent 4-1 victory over Bethlehem, he deliberately fouled Faris with a hard horizontal shoulder charge to prevent a stoppage time consolation attempt. The former Union and Steel center back knew he could not stop him cleanly 1 v 1 in the open field.

Faris’s offensive decision-making in the finishing area remains a concern for his coach. Judging when to pass and when to bull-rush is the issue. Previously, he had always defeated his defender physically, and is now having to broaden his judgment. Striker is a complex position mentally since it lies within the 360°horizon of the central channel, and, to score, decision-speed needs to be correct and instinctive.

He arrived last season in mid-July. He will certainly return for the 2020 season. He plays a position that is more crowded under Ernst Tanner than it was under Earnie Stewart, so it now provides that much more opportunity but also that much more competition. So far, he has not earned consistent practice opportunities with the first team.

Selmir Miscic: Miscic lies outside the organization’s normal player development parameters because of his age. He made his USLC debut in the last five minutes of the recent Nashville match.

When he was signed by Bethlehem last September, Burke indicated the 16-year-old attacking midfielder of Bosnian descent was not expected to appear for Bethlehem at that time, and the expectation continued until last Sunday. Miscic indicated last fall when signed that he wanted to turn pro but did not want to further burden his new challenge with leaving home and friends yet. That suggests there had been interest in him from beyond the Union.

He has been practicing with Bethlehem since last summer, and got his fair share of winter minutes in preseason, usually in matches – or portions of matches – dedicated to conditioning Academy members.

James Chambers: The ageless Irishman is on a new contract, not an old one. But he is the sole survivor of both the 2016 and 2017 teams, so he is hardly new to the team.

He is not a candidate for the first team. His role is on-field, in-match, and in-practice leadership for the young men who are trying to become such candidates.

He no longer belittles the idea that he might one day coach for the organization. In fact, sources indicate he coached successfully last season with U11s. Those sources and others indicate he will let the organization know when it is time to hang up his boots and transition.

Filling his role when the time comes will be one of Tanner’s more important organizational decisions.

New contracts (5)

Zach Zandi: The 22-year-old from West Chester Henderson, West Chester United, and Villanova is the first Reading player to make a significant impact in Bethlehem. The linchpin of Reading’s 2018 undefeated drive to the 2018 PDL/USL2 national championship game has had an immediate and positive impact on the Steel.

Currently his field coverage, defending, and offensive creativity in the midfield have been missed while he treats an injury and now begins to recover from it. He got his first post-injury minutes in the last half-hour against Nashville on Sunday.

He is the one NCAA product on Bethlehem’s roster, and his age lies just outside Tanner’s stated parameters. But he has proven he is a difference maker at the USLC level, at least at the beginning of a season. We will know in October whether he has sustained the difference-making through the accelerating pace and play quality of an entire year. He did so at the PDL/USL2 level last season for Reading’s undefeated run to the unfortunate national championship overtime match.

He should return to Bethlehem next season. Whether he can win a chance with the first-team is unclear. If not, he will follow Santi Moar, Drew Skundrich, Matt Mahoney, and others who have moved on successfully in USLC.

Yomi Scintu: A 22-year-old from Ingolstadt, Germany who also holds Nigerian citizenship, Scintu is a 6’3” 185 pound striker.

He trialed with the organization in late January before they went to Florida but was not mentioned during the Clearwater or post-Clearwater phases of preseason. He signed his contract March 8.

He has been delayed by injuries, and has three appearances only, all of short duration, and all against quality opponents: Indy on April 20 as a sub, Louisville on May 26th also as a sub, and Red Bulls2 on May 31st as a starter who went off injured in the 27th minute. He has played 67 USL minutes only. USLC’s website does not credit him with any shots on goal.

So far he has been a place filler not a game changer. He has until November to change that, and direct competition from Shanyder Borgelin (below) to stimulate him.

Issa Rayyan: Rayyan graduated from the Union Academy Schoolhouse last June, going to Duke University thereafter.

He was the Atlantic Coast Conference’s rookie of the year as a midfielder with six goals and three assists, made the all-conference second team, and was a conference all-academic honoree. Bethlehem signed him on February 26th. Two days earlier as a anonymous trialist he started his first preseason scrimmage—at  right back—against Pittsburgh.

Rayyan has excellent pace, strong technical skill, and, in the transition from his 2018 Steel cameos to the end of the Duke season, has become the USLC game-changer he was not when he was with the Academy.

He was missed when he was out with a pulled hamstring.  Neither Mbaizo nor Academy player Nate Harriel gave quite the same combination of defensive grit and attacking creativity that Rayyan did.  His attacking past means he has both the skills and confidence to beat his opponent one v one on the dribble. It is only his last resort from the defensive third, but so far he has made it work.  The once or twice this strategy hasn’t worked, he has attacked immediately and recovered the ball.

Positional versatility also characterizes Rayyan.  His initial return after the hamstring has been to the midfield rather than outside back because that’s where the bodies were needed. Against Nashville he started in the defense. Coach Burke trusts him at both positions, as he does Walter Cortes.

It has been a fine start to a professional career.  Whether Rayyan can succeed Ray Gaddis at first-team right back is a question still vastly premature, but it is out there. He will return to Bethlehem in 2020.

Ben Ofeimu: Ofeimu illustrates why full seasons on the farm are important. After last year’s clear success, he is getting a crash course in mental resiliency. In his 13 games of 2019 he has had several more result-changing mistakes than in his games in 2018.

Last year, as he moved between the Academy U19s and Bethlehem and then won the starting job in the stretch drive to the playoffs, each Bethlehem game seemed a special effort. Also, he was playing in a familiar system in which he had been playing since he entered the academy, and he knew its subtle nuances.

This year, there have been glaring errors of execution that have cost some goals; a few of them, games. Differences this year are the new system and his role as the leader of the back line. His red card absence recently in north Jersey showed the importance of his leadership role as well as his physical presence.

He will certainly return to Bethlehem for another year. Whether he is ready to displace Aurelien Collin on the Union bench in 2020 remains to be seen. He may need his remaining year and a half to earn that.

Shanyder Borgelin: The seventeen-year-old Haitian from North Lauderdale, FL is an imposing physical specimen (6’3”, 195).  He consistently demonstrates the organization’s demanded willingness to work hard at both offense and defense. He seems to have the basic technical skill to play at this level.

So far, he has not shown the technical flair necessary to attack defenders one v one, one v two or one v three. He does not yet impact USLC games offensively, and for a striker that is necessary. It is highly likely that his individual development plan—each player has specific individual aspects of his overall game that is addressed in the second session of practice on those days when there are two practices—includes developing those skills. (IDP effectiveness is well-illustrated by Ray Gaddis’s improved feet and Ilsinho’s recently-found speed.)

He has the athletic tools to negate the physicality of most defenders in the league. Were he to acquire Faris’s feet, and the Cameroonian’s confidence to attack 1 v 3, he would be a formidable offensive weapon. He will return for 2020, and possibly thereafter if progress warrants.











  1. Thank you, Tim. Always appreciate your breakdowns and insight.
    Some intriguing potential; the most interesting to me is Rayyan, based on your description and where he is playing.

  2. Thanks for this great series.

  3. Desh Bouksani says:

    Jason Bourne was turned into a killer. Your either a striker or your not with the needed tools- your not brainwashed in to becoming one. This kid is big and powerful but he’s not a striker. Has NOWHERE near the skill -let alone all the nuance of timing, deception, insight and finishing needed. Square peg. Round hole. An enormous person filled with athleticism but no real foot accumen. I’ve seen this again and again over the years in and around soccer.
    Zardes and Altidore over Sargent type stuff. Makes me laugh.

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