Analysis / USL - Bethlehem Steel FC

Pressure creates diamonds – the Steel’s 2018 schedule

The USL schedule released Friday is relatively kind to the Bethlehem Steel at the beginning of the season, particularly in its between-games intervals, and five of the first seven are at home.

But the schedule puts the team through the wringer in August, and it finishes harshly.

On the last day of September and the two dates in October Bethlehem plays three  former NASL sides consecutively:

  • the Ottawa Fury, away, September 30,
  • Indy Eleven away, October 6,
  • and the Tampa Bay Rowdies at home in the finale October 14.
Timing

Because there are 15 other teams in the eastern conference, and the schedule totals 34 games, the home-and-away series create 30 of the 34. The other four are home to New York Red Bulls II and Richmond Kickers, and away to Indy and Ottawa.

Since there are 34 games in fewer than 34 weeks, there are some sequences of games on difficultly short rest. Steel head coach Brendan Burke last season pegged five days rest as sufficient for a young team to fully recover for its next game.

Eight of the Steel’s 34 contests will occur with less rest than Burke’s five days. Especially noteworthy is a five game stretch in August that starts August 8 and finishes August 25. It has five games in 18 days. The toughest timing interval is the last one, when the Steel will fly to Nashville to play on the third day after having been home hosting Ottawa.

The schedule demands that one of last year’s innovations continues, namely, giving the away games to the character players on the Steel’s USL roster who step aside at the last minute so the Union benchies can get game minutes in Bethlehem.

The August schedule also demands that there be effective backups at all eleven positions, even if the team’s second-oldest player is only 24 years old.

Anticipated strength of opponent

It is hard to tell which 2018 teams will be improved, which will continue to be strong, and which have suffered weakening losses. Our guess follows.

  • Rivals (2): New York Red Bulls II, Penn FC (formerly Harrisburg City Islanders)
  • Ex-NASL (4): Tampa Bay Rowdies, Indy Eleven, Ottawa Fury, North Carolina FC
  • Tough (4): Charleston Battery, FC Cincinnati, Lousiville City, Charlotte Independence
  • Unknown (2): Nashville SC, Atlanta United 2

And we should mention that while the Rochester franchise is not playing this year, former Rochester coach Bob Lilley has moved to Pittsburgh and has brought several of his old Rhino stalwarts with him to the Riverhounds.

Miscellaneous

How the schedule intermeshes with the Union’s is a subject for future analysis.

The longest away trip remains Tampa. The three next-longest are Nashville, Atlanta and Louisville, since Orlando is not playing in USL this year. We are guessing that buses will be used only for NYRB2, Penn FC and Richmond.

Of the Steel’s seventeen home games, eight are on Sunday; five are Saturday; three, Wednesday, and one, Thursday.

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