Philadelphia Union II / USL Match report

Match report: Bethlehem Steel 2-3 Birmingham Legion

Photo: Marjorie Elzey 

It was a wild Sunday night in Chester as Bethlehem Steel fell to Birmingham Legion, 3-2. With a total of 10 cards, four ejections and five goals, a lot happened in this USL match.

What was expected to be a difficult match against a more experienced Birmingham team actually started very well for the Steel, with Bethlehem’s passing allowing them to set the pace of the match and generate some attack in the first ten minutes. Led by first-teamers Michee Ngalina and Sergio Santos, the offense had the necessary experience to direct the young midfield, which was missing James Chambers, to create opportunities. The Steel’s best chance came in the 14th minute when Santos burst down the left sideline and got off a beautiful cross into the box that couldn’t be finished.

However, the Steel went behind early. After a few good clearances and blocks from Bethlehem’s back line, a first time hit by Propser Kasim went past Steel keeper Todd Morton. Kasim was loosely marked at the top of the box and quickly able to get a shot off after receiving the cross from Akeem Ward. His shot was low and just out of Morton’s diving reach to put Birmingham up 1-0 in the 20th minute.

Behind a goal, Bethlehem kept pushing. Santos was able to use both his speed and his head to try to tie the game back up. After a cross from the Matt Real in the 34th minute, Santos was able to redirect the ball with his head into the hands of Matt Van Oekel. Five minutes later, Real had another great cross that Ngalina and Issa Rayyan both were able to get shots off after a bit of a scramble in the box.

Right before halftime, the match got away from the referee. After Zandi was fouled in the box, but a call was not given, the Steel were frustrated enough to get chippy. Zandi took down a Birmingham player to earn a yellow card and then fights broke out on the field. Santos and Zach Herivaux began pushing each other and hitting each other in the face, earning them straight red cards. The half ended with Birmingham up 1-0 and both sides playing with 10 men.

The Steel continued to press Birmingham, desperate for a goal and more than a little frustrated. As more cards were dealt out, the Steel began to lose control and allowed for Birmingham to attack more and more. Morton got more involved in the match and made a great save after coming out of the net and deflecting a shot in the 57th minute. But Faris changed the pace immediately after stepping onto the pitch with a run into the box two minutes later. Then Real almost tied it with a shot/cross aimed at the far post that everyone crashing the net just missed.

Despite the Steel’s attacks, they fell even further behind. J.J. Williams headed the ball just over the reach of Morton and into the upper left corner of the goal. The cross came from Eric Avila to put the Legion up 2-0 in the 67th minute.

The match then got a bit crazy as the Steel quickly rallied after Birmingham doubled the score.

Bethlehem shortly cut the lead in half after a scrum in the box pulled Van Oekel out of the net to make an initial save. Ngalina wound up moving the ball away from the end line and in front of an almost wide open net. He easily buried the ball in the back of the net and it was 2-1 in the 69th minute.

Just five minutes later, Razak Cromwell took down Faris in the box leading to a penalty kick. Olivier Mbaizo took the kick, burying it the lower left corner of the net to tie the match, 2-2.

In the 77th minute Birmingham took the lead again. Mikey Lopez was able to hit a volley to the far post following a free kick for the Legion and beat Morton. After the goal, Faris argued with the ref about the lack of a call for a foul against one of his teammates during the free kick skirmish. Faris was awarded a straight red card for his arguing where he made contact with the ref by bumping chests. The Steel were down 3-2 and playing with nine men against ten. Shortly after Faris’ ejection, Cromwell earned his second yellow card and was ejected for accumulation in the 83rd. Both teams were now playing with only nine men apiece.

James Chambers led the team’s attacks in the remaining minutes of the match, nearly scoring with a shot that was just wide of the goal. The match ended with a shot from Steve Kingue that was slightly over the crossbar as the Steel once again fell at home, 3-2 in one of the craziest match of the season.

Three points

A wild night. Wild night might be an understatement for a match that had 10 cards and each team finished with nine men apiece. Referee Elijio Arreguin lost control of this match right before the end of the first half, during the first round of red cards. After that the Steel were too frustrated and made some poor decisions that led to even more cards and anger. A lot of the cards could have been avoided if the Steel played more proactively than reactively.

No Chambers. This match marked the fourth time James Chambers did not start this season. Without him in the lineup, the average age of the team was 20.4 years old. After replacing Cole Turner, Chambers brought the average age up to 21.6 years old. Despite adding his experience to the team, Chambers had a few chances for a tying goal but didn’t contribute anything else in the Steel’s loss. Normally the veteran captain makes his presence known on the field, but with only nine men it was difficult for him to get a desperately needed goal.

Issa Rayyan’s position. After losing their best attacker, Sergio Santos, Issa Rayyan who started as right outside midfielder was moved up to right striker. Rayyan has proven his adaptability and attacking abilities, making him the Steel’s favorite utility player. He didn’t get too much of an opportunity to play as striker as he was subbed off for Faris after 14 minutes.



Todd Morton; Olivier Mbaizo, Nathan Harriel, Walter Cortes, Matt Real (c); Issa Rayyan (Faris 59′), Steve Kingue, Cole Turner (James Chambers 64′), Zach Zandi, Michee Ngalina, Sergio Santos. Unused substitutes: Lukas Burns, Chavany Willis, Yomi Scintu, Axel Picazo, Jamoi Topey


Matt Van Oekel (c); Akeem Ward, Mathieu Laurent, Razak Cromwell, Zachary Herivaux; Prosper Kasim, Anderson Asiedu, Mikey Lopez Eric Avila (Kyle Culbertson 78′); Brian Wright (Femi Hollinger-Janzen 82′), J.J. Williams (Daniel Johnson 68′). Unused substitutes: Benjamin Kucera, Trevor Spangeberg, Marcos Ugarte, Joseph Holland


BIR: Prosper Kasim (Akeem Ward) – 20′

BIR: J.J. Williams (Eric Avila) – 67′

BET: Michee Ngalina – 69′

BET: Olivier Mbaizo (penalty kick) – 74′

BIR: Mikey Lopez – 77′


BIR: Mikey Lopez – yellow – 36′

BET: Zach Zandi – yellow – 42′

BET: Sergio Santos – red – 42′

BIR: Zach Herivaux – red – 42′

BET: Matt Real – yellow – 53′

BIR: Eric Avila – yellow – 54′

BET: Cole Turner – yellow – 56′

BIR: Razak Cromwell – yellow – 73′

BET: Faris – red – 77′

BIR: Razak Cromwell – yellow (red) – 83′


  1. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Only saw the last 20-24 minutes.
    Worth noting that the color man of the pro-birmingham Legion announcing team was going to nominate Faris for man-of-the-match until he bumped chests with the referee and was thrown out.
    The facts seem to epitomize Faris. He is able to be a clear difference maker on a USLC pitch. He also gets himself carded regularly, both mustard AND ketchup. Does his difference making come from a level of emotion — rage — that he has not learned to control while using?
    That he relies more than Ernst Tanner probably wants on individual prowess rather than the team scheme seems likely. But at the USLC level when he is plugged in and healthy, he is a goal scoring threat for which the other team must account.

  2. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Also worthy of note is the center back structure.
    I could not tell whether it was a three man center back group or the more expected two. Mbaizo was clearly the right flank back in the Ernst Tanner two way attacking and defending mode.
    On the left side, Real and Cortes seemed interchangeable between a left CB in a group of three, and the left channel two-way attacking-defending flank back.
    Harriel and Kingue were the other two CB’s, if it is in fact a trio.
    Jamoi Topey, customarily a CB in a four man defensive line was on the bench. Ben Ofeimu was not in the 18.
    It was the same defensive scheme that secured the scoreless draw in Nashville, but without the last week’s element of surprise and an away game’s extra day in which coaches Burke, Hogan, and Wheddon can teach and remediate the scheme secure in the knowledge of the composition of their team.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      What was really strange was that at the start of the match, Mbaizo was announced as a forward. Given that they also announced 4 defenders, I was pretty lost as to what formation they were actually playing (since I don’t know they players well enough to remember where the non-Union players were announced).

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        in the bit that I saw at the end, it looked like the same defensive scheme they played in Nashville.
        The USLC match center people called it a 5-3-2 both for the Nashville match and for Birmingham.
        To my eyes Mbaizo played like an outside back in the 4-man back line that Tanner brought in last January. But Cortes and Real were interchangeably covering for each other depending on who ended up where when the team gained possession. at the end Real was making more offensive runs in to deliver crosses.
        Whether you would call Kingue a central center back, or an extremely deep lying defensive central midfielder stacked behind Turner/Chambers in more of a midfield T rather than a diamond or a trapezoid I do not care as it is a matter of semantics. Kingue seemed to play as deep as the CBs.
        The intriguing thing to me is the interchangeability principle. To use it in the defense requires flawless instantaneous reading of the situation moment by moment, but playing five outside backs across the back line with positional interchangeability and situational offensive responsibility was what I thought I was seeing at Nashville. I haven’t seen enough of the Birmingham match. And it is Cortes and Real who seem freest to play according to those principles. Harriel, Kingue and Mbaizo seemed more traditionally set in conventional positionality.
        If they are in fact experimenting as I speculate, I am confident it is a collective decision with Tanner’s blessing, but I also suspect Burke and Hogan of the willingness to try something new.
        And why not? Bethlehem are effectively toast for the playoffs.

  3. Outside of the box says:

    Mbazio takes penalty kicks!?

  4. Andy Muenz says:

    I’m pretty sure the ref wore a red shirt because he is a redneck from Alabama.

  5. Old Soccer Coach says:

    I am beginning to see a lot of similarities between the 2019 youngest team in the league’s tribulations — Bethlehem — and those of 2018’s such team — Toronto FC II. There are a few signature wins, but mostly it is about losing.
    Very, very gently at the recent Town Hall Tanner said he had thought Bethlehem might have been doing just a little better than they are.
    He also had some shrewd and useful observations about the raft of injuries Bethlehem has suffered this year. He pointed out that most of them occur in practice not games, that they are connected to the more violent changes of direction called for in playing his new style, that he experienced something roughly similar when he went to Salzburg, and that there are adjustments that can be made in the future that worked at Salzburg to alleviate the problems and presumably will work here.

  6. Bring Steel Back to Bethlehem says:

    Hopefully this isn’t too off topic. I think the Valley soccer scene is relevant for Steel…

    Most of the Steel fans were at the Allentown United (UPSL) match. Good time. Very good attendance for that level (435). They don’t play nearly as many home matches as Steel and it’s a much lower level, but honestly it filled my soccer need. It had a real community feel. All sorts of people and families. Old fashioned grill for hot dogs. A good merch selection. They totally sold out the scarfs. They had to start selling the display merch. Hopefully AUFC is handled properly and it can grow into something more than it currently is.

    They’re now my local club. Don’t care too much now about BSFC other than the Union need to give the name back to this area and I hope Chambers does well. Getting even more difficult for this version of Steel to get back to the Valley…

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