Analysis

Steel’s “on loan” players at mid-season

Feature photo courtesy Rob Simmons 

The player development process that is Bethlehem Steel FC is a continuous flow, with new players entering into it every season via signed contracts or on loan.

As discussed more carefully on June 6 (see first link below) the organization’s time frame for assessment is 12 to 24 months. In that time a player must demonstrate ability to play a role with the first team, from practice “benchy” to MLS star.

Tick-tock

Steel head coach Brendan Burke wants eight to 10 games fairly to assess a player’s potential. Burke also believes that keeping a player who clearly has no chance at the first team is unfair.

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

Today we evaluate Bethlehem’s five 2019 players who are on loan, (and correct an error of omission from the earlier article on first-teamers.)

Generalities

These players are under the most immediate pressure. Technically, they could be sent away as early as mid-season although it seems unlikely.

They are trying to earn their 12-to-24-month opportunities. In their favor is that they have learned how the organization wants things done and thus have the advantage over new comers. Furthermore, the Steel’s roster size is beyond lean, so departures would have to be replaced. But as one source put it, every time out they are playing to stay in this country.

During preseason, Ernst Tanner indicated that the club controls all the choices available concerning these Bethlehem loans. Two primary choices are length of stay and the option to buy.

Walter Cortes: The 19-year-old Costa Rican youth international left back from Club Saprissa is learning the nuances of playing left back behind Ernst Tanner’s no-winger four-man midfield. He was a fixture during preseason while the first team’s left back situation was being assessed and addressed.

When Matt Real has been available – and not needed at center back – Cortes has played behind him. Otherwise, Cortes has started, save when Fabinho came down. He seems adapted to USLC. He has pace and technical skill. He is well integrated into the team’s over-all concept of play. He scored his first goal against St. Louis FC Saturday night, attacking while down a man.

Furthermore, coach Burke trusts him to play in the midfield in an emergency, either as a substitute or as a starter. Adaptability is essential with a tiny roster such as Burke’s.

Cortes will finish the season, and at this point seems a serious candidate for a contract, assuming terms work out with his Costa Rican powerhouse. Recall that Fabinho is expected to transition fully to coaching.

Chavany Willis: At 21 years old from Kingston, Jamaica, Willis is fourth-oldest on the current squad. From the beginnings in February he has been a midfield jack-of-all trades, being the second-choice number 6 behind captain James Chambers in preseason, as well as Zach Zandi’s running mate further forward. When coach Burke recently used the diamond in the midfield, Willis was the forward attacking mid in Zandi’s absence, until he dropped back late to help defend area 14.

He is on loan from the Jamaican Premier League’s Portmore United. While he is at the older end of Tanner’s stated age window, he seems essential to Bethlehem’s finishing out its season, especially given the uncertainty surrounding other Bethlehem midfield spots. The best combination is Chambers, Willis, Anthony Fontana and Zandi.

His future will be affected by midfield developments on the first-team, among them those concerning Jamiro Monteiro, Marco Fabian, Brenden Aaronson, and Fontana. In the immediate-term he is the best qualified on Bethlehem to step into the ageless Chambers’ number six position.

Jamoi Topey: The 19-year-old center back from Portmore, Jamaica is currently a reserve with the Reggae Boyz full national team during the Gold Cup.

He stands 6’5” and his passing has been cited positively by coach Burke. When he is missing due to injury or international duty, his long-range distribution out of the back glares by its omission.

The most recent match against Red Bulls 2 was the first time he did not play next to Ben Ofeimu. Leadership of the center backs during the match, especially when 16-year-old Dante Huckaby had to debut for injured Mike Pellegrino, looked like a continuing opportunity for Topey’s future growth, especially early.

The other major growth opportunity for Topey is precisely that: physical growth. He is a beanpole who needs to fill out. Twice-weekly weight room sessions and sitting at table in the organization’s commissary should increase the physicality of play for which his coach has called. Really big people worry about hurting others, and Topey is still learning that USLC adults can take it as well as dish it out.

He will finish the season with Bethlehem without doubt and will return for 2020. Investing time to develop potential seems a wise approach for the Union, assuming Cavaliers SC of the Jamaican premier League are amenable to terms. He seems behind Ben Ofeimu in the competition for Aurelien Collin’s first-team reserve spot right now, but shows a higher upside because of his passing range.

Saed Diaz: The soon-to-be 20-year-old Panamanian youth international striker was a fixture in Bethlehem’s lineup during preseason. He conclusively demonstrated the mindset for the offensive and defensive work rates that the organization so prizes. His pace and technique fit in well with the Steel’s requirements.

So far during Bethlehem’s season when healthy and present, he has been behind Michee Ngalina for game minutes. He has had two bouts of injury. The current one involves a torn right knee meniscus.

The primary unanswered question about Diaz is producing goals. A secondary one is whether he can be the line’s leader, since Faris has taken that role when they are together. So far he seems more the complementary player than the bell cow.

The Tauro FC loanee will finish the season with Bethlehem. The future beyond that is uncertain. He will need to recover and stay healthy if he is to control it.

Steve Kingue: Kingue is a 19-year-old Cameroonian defender and defensive midfielder on loan this season to Bethlehem from Cameroon’s Nfuko Academy Sports.

The delay in his international paperwork process and some injuries have restricted his preseason and his game opportunities. At right back and at right defensive central midfield the question his play raises is speed of thought. More than once he has seemed a count late to the play.

It may be telling that coach Burke now chooses Walter Cortes and Issa Rayyan as emergency midfielders ahead of him.

He should finish the season but seems unlikely to return, barring major steps forward in speed of soccer IQ.

Mea Culpa:

I omitted someone from the first article in this series, Carlos Miguel Coronel.

The 22-year-old Brazilian is on loan to the first team from Red Bulls Salzburg. He has appeared four times for the Union, starting thrice while both Andre Blake and Matt Freese were hurt. He has started eight of Bethlehem’s 15 matches.

Most recently, he kept goal in Bethlehem’s streak-breaking win over St. Louis FC, producing six saves. Most came later in the match when 10-man Bethlehem was tiring.

Coronel is a more complete goal-keeper than Matt Freese at this point in time, but probably has a lower ceiling because of his hands. When in doubt, he parries rather than catches. His close-range reaction quickness is outstanding. He is not Blake, but he is in the same conversation.

Right now, he is better than Freese reading aerial crosses, probably because he is considerably more experienced. He has been playing professionally since the 2015-16 season.

His future with the club will be influenced by the organization’s judgment of Tomas Romero, and that judgment is unclear. Romero has drawn praise from his coach this season for being “more explosive,” but Freese is clearly ahead of him. Team behavior suggests Romero is likely to go off to Georgetown in August, which would mean Coronel might stay beyond December as one of the back-ups to Blake. (His loan was not included in Tanner’s preseason blanket statement of loan control referenced above, since he is with the first team.)

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