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Bethlehem Steel FC rebranded to Philadelphia Union II

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union

Earlier this morning Philadelphia Union announced the rebranding of Bethlehem Steel FC as Philadelphia Union II.

The move is an acknowledgment that the search for a suitable stadium solution in the Lehigh Valley is at an end. Bethlehem had played at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium under an annual waiver for its first three seasons because the stadium had no lights.

Ever since mid-summer of 2018, the club had been actively seeking alternatives to Goodman that met all the United Soccer League Championship’s criteria for acceptance. Union Chief Business Officer Tim McDermott said earlier this year that the organization was on the phone once a week following developments in Lehigh Valley. At the town hall streamed from the stadium club in August he gently expressed pessimism over returning successfully to the Bethlehem area, although at that time he did not lock and bolt the door of possibility.

The combination of TV capable lights for night games, a minimum of 5,000 seats, and a single composition natural grass surface — first articulated as essential back in 2016 by former Sporting Director Earnie Stewart — proved impossible to find.

“The Noble Art of Divination”
  • Coaches Brendan Burke and Stephen Hogan and midfielder James Chambers (see photo) are the three “plank holders” of Bethlehem Steel FC.  They were present at the beginning, and continued to the end.
  • McDermott’s comment in that the organization will continue to make every effort to bring the Union brand to the Lehigh Valley suggests at least the possibility of Union II playing a game or two in the Lehigh Valley as was done last year.
  • There has been speculation that MLS player development sides will be moved to USL League One going forward, as outlined in Sam Stejskal’s July headline in The Athletic. The USL-MLS agreement that has shaped the details of professional player development in North America since 2013 expires this month, so changes may be coming. At least for now, though, Union II look set to stay in the Championship, as the press release’s headline refers to Union II as the “Philadelphia Union USL Championship Team.”
  • McDermott highlighted the benefits to player development of having the club practice and play in the same place as the first team. He used the verb “to strengthen.” “To continue” seems more appropriate since the second team has practiced in Chester since its founding in 2016, and played there last season, unless there are further unannounced changes coming to justify his usage.
  • All Bethlehem Steel FC “swag” has just become collectible.

Full marks to Keystone Sports for respecting the history and traditions of the sport in the Lehigh Valley by dropping the Bethlehem name for a club playing in Chester. The question of what happens to the Bethlehem Steel name in the future remains up in the air; the Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald reports that the Bethelehem Steel name remains a trademark owned by Major League Soccer.

7 Comments

  1. they were deep discounting the Steel swag at the end of the season. i suspected a move like this was coming. perhaps one day Steel can be appropriately honored as a living organization. would love a USL One team even taking up the mantle.

  2. Can we PLEASE just freakin’ give…it…UP!???
    .
    There is NO SUPPORT for a team in the LV, so just stop it. It is a complete waste of time and effort. They’re trying to fit a square peg into NO HOLE.
    .
    Bethlehem Steel is a nice history lesson. I don’t mind them giving it a nod now and again. But this pitiful effort to somehow create a fan base in the middle of an economically strapped dullsville is way past ridiculous. It doesn’t even make sense to keep sending people up and down that God-forbidden death trap of a turnpike when the big team won’t spring for even ONE charter flight.
    .
    Let it freakin’ die. Bethlehem Steel went the way of the Deacatur Staleys a long time ago. Progress. Moving on. Do something great elsewhere instead of something constantly pathetic up there.

    • Agree. Kinda sucks that MLS now owns the “Bethlehem Steel” brand, though.
      It would be a great independent club for the area, and could play against the recently formed Allentown United FC.

    • It sounds like they actually have given up. If your girlfriend tells you that she doesn’t want to go out with you any more, but she’s planning to call you once a week to stay in touch, I think you’re done.

  3. Speaking of charter flights, did anyone see the interview Sugarman gave regarding all of that? I have to say, I’m usually the glass-is-half-full supporter, and justifier of most things FO, but…That was a very, very bizarre interview.
    .
    It could have been the writing style of the reporter, but Sugarman appeared to claim no one had ever mentioned the idea of charter flights to him (tossing Tanner and Curtin under the bus for good measure) and that he’d have to talk to Ale about his thoughts on the matter. REALLY? It’s like the guy has been living in an alternate reality or something.
    .
    The whole thing was presented in a way that made it look like this was all “news” to Sugarman. Bedoya’s social media complaint/photo was a season long new story that went national and even a bit beyond the scope of MLS.
    .
    That interview came off pretty “out there” (to me anyway). Again, maybe the writer tipped it funny, but that was a head scratcher.

    • Thought the same thing.Fully weird.
      .
      I don’t know how much more out of the bubble you can appear. If you’re not even clued into a firestorm of negative media against the team’s cheap reputation….
      wow.

  4. Scott of Nazareth says:

    Expected, but still bummed out about it.
    .
    Based on successes with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs and Lehigh Valley Phantoms, I think the market is there, or certainly the potential for it.
    .
    Totally get, understand and appreciate the name and history of “Bethlehem Steel”, but wonder if they might have been better off going with the regional “Lehigh Valley” versus “Bethlehem”. I know its all semantics, but you’re not winning hearts and minds in Allentown and Easton or Nazareth, Northampton, Whitehall, Emmaus, etc., going with one town name in these parts.
    .
    Lastly I still have yet to see what the cost for lighting Goodman Stadium would have been and why Lehigh University wasn’t open to having night games there.

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