Season Review

Season review: Bethlehem Steel roster evaluation, part one

Photo: PSP archives

The 30 players who have accumulated statistics for Bethlehem this year will be listed or discussed in two installments. Today I consider members of the Union first team and Academy players who have played for Bethlehem. In the next installment, I’ll discuss players signed directly to Bethlehem’s roster.

My six classifications combine three of the statistics’ categories, “Games Played,” “Games Started,” and “Total Minutes,” intuitively.

• First-team:    cameos (7)        listed only
• First-team:    mainstays (4)     paragraph each
• Academy:     cameos (5)       listed only
• Academy:     signings (5+1)   paragraph each
• Bethlehem:  mainstays (9)    paragraph each
• Bethlehem:  occasionals (3)  paragraph each

The first four are today’s subject – the last two will come later.

First-team cameos (total minutes are in parentheses)

Olivier Mbaizo (720), Carlos Miguel Coronel (720), Mark McKenzie (540), Derrick Jones (256), Fabinho (174), Kacper Przybylko (160), Sergio Santos (72).

First-team mainstays 

Matt Freese is the Homegrown goalkeeper signed last December whom coach Brendan Burke expected to be his primary starter. When he has been healthy and not needed by the first team, he has been so, but injury and the first team have intervened. He has eight starts, but with 675 minutes not 720 because one of his injuries occurred during a Bethlehem match. When Coronel’s hands were judged suspect, he was Andre Blake’s backup until the late summer arrival of the more experienced Joe Bendik. He will likely get more experience with Bethlehem next season.

Michee Ngalina is a striker and attacking midfielder with 22 starts who – I think – has been on unrecallable loan to Bethlehem since his one regular season cameo for the Union right after he was signed on May 8th. Earlier in the year, Burke said Ngalina had to prove he would execute his defensive responsibilities consistently. Offensively he has always had the pace and technical skill to be a dangerous USLC goal scorer. This season his physical durability has markedly improved. His next developmental step is to prove he can attack effectively for the first team, possibly challenging Fafa Picault who will be out of contract. He has been practicing with the Union since mid-summer last season. USL ranks him 13th of their top 20 under 20-year-old players. He needs development opportunities during the offseason.

Matt Real – 18 starts – is a left wing back who this season has developed into a more effective outside channel defender, and become a defensively credible USLC left center back. Against Pumas, he played both positions. Additionally, upon occasion in USLC he has been a competent left channel midfielder, in a 3-5-2 as well as the 4-4-2. A PSP reader reports that at the playoff pep rally Real said he was being groomed as a midfielder. He has had some cameos this season with the first team, most recently in the regular season finale against NYCFC as a midfielder, and he has served as Bethlehem’s captain upon occasion. USL ranks him 10th among their top 20 under 20-year-old players. He should replace Fabinho as a reserve defender with the first team next season in addition to whatever develops in the midfield. He also needs development opportunities during the offseason, especially in midfield.

Anthony Fontana’s time as a Bethlehem mainstay – 14 starts – ended with the signing of Cole Turner in July. He seems to be earning Jim Curtin’s trust as a first-team midfield substitute, most recently in the regular season finale against NYC FC. He is depth behind the shuttle midfielders in the diamond and perhaps the defensive center mid. In the latter position he would need to improve his long-range vision and distribution. He has the requisite clean touch on the ball, and covers ground in bulk both defensively and offensively. He seems to be Bedoya’s understudy. He also needs development opportunities during the offseason

Academy cameos (minutes)

Patrick Bohui (277, 2 starts), Selmir Miscic (178, 2 starts & 1 goal), Dante Huckaby (84), Danny Flores (92), Mike Pellegrino (7)

Academy signings: Actual, expected & “might have been”

Cole Turner is a defensive center midfielder with 22 starts who is currently better as a USLC central defender. He is a ball winner. His next developmental step is the vision, technical skill and confidence to distribute the ball from the base of the midfield triangle. As a CB he advances the ball well to his midfielders in a possession game, and to his linemen directly in a counterattacking style. He plays effectively next to James Chambers when they are aligned together in the midfield trapezoid variation on the diamond, but does he not match the captain when replacing him as the lone DCM. He seems more comfortable distributing from the backline than the midfield right now. His developmental time trying to learn DCM meant Chambers could not be on the field playing that role, thus handicapping the team’s ability to win. Playing Turner as the deep midfield distributor exemplifies the difference between playing to develop players and playing to win. He needs development opportunities during the offseason. He will practice with the Union next year and will be rostered with them.

Nate Harriel is an outside right back who also can play right center back competently at the USLC level. His birth year is 2001, meaning he has a full season left in the academy. As an academy junior and rising senior, he has already had 20 starts and 1,896 total minutes. We expect him to be signed by either Bethlehem or Philadelphia in the future. He has the mental adaptability to be the two-way outside wingback Ernst Tanner’s diamond demands. While he has not scored, he has put threating chances on goal among his 13 shots. He has grown to show real grit as a defender playing against adult athletes. We think it likely his mental adaptability pushes him ahead of Mbaizo whose play remains rigidly unimaginative. Revisiting a theme, he also needs development opportunities during the offseason.

Shanyder Borgelin is an 18-year-old striker who signed with Bethlehem from the Academy in April. He has excellent size and athleticism and has recently won compliments from his coach for improving the quality of his play, moving from a place-holder to one who has an occasional and now more than occasional effect on the game. In particular his defensive work rate by the end of the season was impressive. He scored his first professional goal in September. He has had 23 appearances but only 736 minutes. He will be back with Bethlehem next year. He also needs development opportunities during the offseason.

Jack De Vries is an attacking midfielder and forward who has signed with the Union for 2020 at age 17. He has appeared primarily with the Academy teams rather than Bethlehem. His salary for 2020 was published by the MLS Players Association at the end of September, and the number reinforces suggestions that Philadelphia was pre-empting interest in him from overseas since it is not the minimum. Athletically, he has been competitive against USLC adults, but he is not yet an offensive difference maker against them. He will be practicing with the Union next year and will probably increase the number of games he plays for Bethlehem. This September and October he has appeared exclusively for the Academy. If his age does not impede them, he needs development opportunities with Bethlehem during the offseason.

It is still early to be certain whether Academy midfielder Axel Picazo will sign with the Union or the Steel at some point in the future. But his role in the club has become more significant than mere cameos, and a signing in the future now seems credible. He was a consistent late-game midfield substitute and an occasional starter, until the last three games of the season. Then he combined with Selmir Miscic in one substitution and two starts quite promisingly. His combination with Miscic in Kennesaw, GA was one of the few bright spots in the 5-2 loss to Atlanta 2, and the combination did many things well against Ottawa and Charleston. He has had 19 appearances, but only seven starts and 839 minutes. Coach Burke may have been referring to Picazo when he recently spoke of a player “learning to grow up,” as the player had pushed himself physically to the point of nausea. Picazo is learning how to be a difference maker rather than merely a place holder, as witnessed in his play against Loudon, Atlanta, Ottawa, and Charleston.

The “might have been” academy signing refers to goalkeeper Tomas Romero who is now at Georgetown. Romero had eight appearances in nine starts for 765 minutes before going off to college. He has the highest save percentage, .704, of any Steel keeper this season. In the 1-0 shutout of Louisville City at Slugger Field his play was of exceptionally high quality. He was in the zone, “out of his mind” superb. We conjecture that he decided to leave the organization because he feels himself blocked by both Matt Freese and his short stature, but that is pure guesswork. At this juncture, he remains qualified to be a Union homegrown player. Only the future knows whether he will choose to maintain that status in off-season workouts and summer play in USL Two with Reading.

Postscript

A sample of one substitution and two starts is thin, but Selmir Miscic has been quite ready to play in USLC for the first half to three-quarters of an hour of a match. He has a knack for reading situations and arriving in the box at the right time on his runs. And when he is on the field with fellow academy products, in the defensive and middle thirds the team plays possession and counterattacking effectively. If all progresses normally, he should play for Bethlehem next season. To do so he will need offseason development opportunities that are more exacting than the Development Academy.

3 Comments

  1. I understand Ernst’s rationale for making Steel younger, but it was still tough watching them drop off so much from how competitive they were last year…

    • I feel like balance in important. Trusty and Mckenzie came up playing alongside Hugh Roberts, a talented veteran USL defender who is one of the best in the league. I have to imagine that helped their meteoric rise to the first time.

      By comparison, Ofeimu has NOT had that rock next to him, and he doesn’t seem to be any closer to the first team for it.

      That being said, I would love to live in Ernsts future where we CAN compete with an U21 Bethlehem team. But I don’t think we are there yet.

  2. Great work Tim as always.

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