Photo courtesy Harrisburg City Islanders and USL
Bethlehem Steel FC lost 3-2 to Harrisburg City Islanders Saturday night at FNB Field in front of a Harrisburg City record crowd.
Cordel Benbow erased a Steel fightback in the 90th minute, splitting defenders Auston Trusty and Aaron Jones and turning Pedro Ribiero’s pass into the game-winning assist.
Aaron Wheeler and Paul Wilson staked the capital city crew to a quick 2-0 lead in the first twenty minutes.
Philadelphia Union draft picks brought Bethlehem back into the match. Santi Moar buried a keeper spill in the 38th, and substitute Chris Nanco slotted past Brandon Miller in the 64th to even it, but Benbow broke the Steel’s back four minutes after being substituted onto the pitch.
Harrisburg started a lineup that indicated its intent to come out and attack, and Chris Wheeler out-raced Steel goalie Jake McGuire to a corner kick and opened the scoring inside of ten minutes. Islanders right back Jamie Thomas, more than a handful for Steel left back Giliano Wijnaldum all night, penetrated along the end line and dished to a wide-open Wilson to put Bethlehem behind the eight ball.
Hope began rising for the visitors when an Aaron Jones free kick short-hopped the Harrisburg keeper and Moar pounced.
Both teams played high intensity soccer in the first half, and Steel head coach Brendan Burke correctly judged that Chris Nanco’s pace replacing Adam Najem at attacking center mid could get behind the Islanders’ center backs. He fed Conneh within minutes, but the Liberian put it wide. Then Conneh returned the favor when Nanco knotted things at 2-2.
The game began to show the stretched features of exhaustion in the final twenty-five minutes.
The Steel clearly missed Cory Burke, whose athleticism and energy had been so impressive against Rochester and Cincinnati.
Hugh Roberts started at defensive center midfielder, looking a bit lost at times when defending further up the pitch and having to recover, as well as on offense. But his athleticism was important to help center backs Mark McKenzie and Trusty with the City Islanders’ captain and former Union man, now recovered from last year’s broken collarbone.
The Bethlehem side’s mental resilience in avoiding a descent into a debacle, as happened against the hosts last year in the rain in Lancaster, is to be commended. Steel followers have bad memories of Wheeler trashing Ken Tribbett and Anderson Conceicao slightly less than a year ago.
Seriously young – again: The starting Steel center backs were 18-year-old academy senior McKenzie and 18-year-old Union loanee Trusty once again. After the early ball-watching miscue on the restart, they held Wheeler in check. Wheeler has pace on Trusty, and he flattened McKenzie once and then scissored his legs from behind later -without intent in the judgment of the referee.
Speaking of referees: The quality of the three refs assigned to the Steel’s first three games has been noticeably better than the division three ones from last year, an important factor in a match between two teams with the history of chippiness that the former and current Union USL affiliates have.
Playing again 24 hours later: The Union’s prize acquisition from New York Red Bulls, Adam Najem, had a solidly competent game. PSP is confidently guessing that he was mandated to come off by the 60th minute since he had made his MLS debut in Chester the night before. He was joined by Derrick Jones who went the full ninety behind him. Having both on the pitch together is as much an investment in the future as is McKenzie next to Trusty.
BSFC: Jake McGuire*: Aaron Jones*, Mark McKenzie**, Auston Trusty*, Giliano Wijnaldum*; Hugh Roberts, Derrick Jones*; Marcus Epps* (Justin McMaster**), Adam Najem* (Chris Nanco 59’), Santi Moar (Josh Heard 68’); Seku Conneh Unused Subs: Matt Freese**, Charlie Reymann, Chris Wingate, Issa Rayyan** — *Union Loanee, **Academy, Underlined=Steel contract
HCI: Brandan Miller: Jamie Thomas, Travis Brent (Tiago Calvano 45+’), Lee Nishanian, Abbas Mohamed; Rasheed Olabiyi, John Grosh; Manolo Sanchez (Cardel Benbow 84’), Paul Wilson (Pedro Ribiero 68’) , Jonathan Mendoza; Aaron Wheeler Unused Subs: Nick Noble, Shawn McLaws, , Michael Olla, Kwamina Mensah,
HCI: Aaron Wheeler (Lee Nishanian) 9:06
HCI Paul Wilson (Jamie Thomas) 20:18
BSFC: Santi Moar 37:26
BSFC: Chris Nanco (Seku Conneh) 63:09
HCI: Cardel Benbow (Pedro Ribiero) 89:32
BSFC: Giliano Wijnaldum, (foul) 61st minute
HCI: Jamie Thomas, (foul) 72nd minute
HCI: Tiago Calvano, (foul) 85th minute