Report / USL - Bethlehem Steel FC

Match report: Bethlehem Steel F.C. 2 – 2 New York Red Bulls II

Photo: Rob Simmons

It was shaping up to be a quiet night in Bethlehem on Wednesday. The crowd was quiet. The rain was quiet. The Bethlehem Steel F.C. offense was quiet. For almost the entire match, nothing was louder than the referee’s whistle.

Then Chris Nanco decided to make some noise.

Mere weeks after his first start, the Canadian came off the bench late in the first half with a pocketful of devilish deliveries. The first came in the 88th minute, when he bent a corner in to defender Matt Mahoney, who redirected it into the top corner with his head to get a goal back. The next was a laser across the face of goal that turned into the latest possible equalizer off the foot of James Chambers.

A first career score for Mahoney and the latest goal in club history was plenty loud enough as the Steel salvaged a point (2-2) against rival New York Red Bulls II.

“We kind of had them pinned back at the end a little bit,” Nanco said. “The ball came to me and I thought ‘Just get it in the box.’ We were pushing guys forward. Just get it into the box and anything can happen.”

“Today’s definitely one of those days where they walk away feeling like they lost and we walk away feeling like we won,” Burke said.

Things were looking bleak when New York’s Stefano Benomo earned his brace in the 84th minute. The Steel had been pressing all half, making darting runs and peppering the net, but nothing doing. All the sudden on the other end, Benomo squeaked by a defender and ripped in a low driver past John McCarthy. He strolled over to the Red Bull bench and hugged his teammates as Goodman Stadium went silent.

Burke had every reason to think it was over. At no point in the series history had both teams scored in the same match. But Nanco had plenty left. He stood out among the gassed defenders and sprung over to the corner flag for services. One ball quickly perked the crowd back up.

“Nanco played a great ball in, I was unmarked right on the six and I was lucky enough to just direct it far post, get a goal,” Mahoney said. “I didn’t even have time to think about it, to be honest. We were just worried about trying to get another one and pushing.”

Just four minutes later, with New York on the Steel’s heels and the clock winding down, the spotlight hit Nanco again on the left side. His driven cross seemed to take a full minute to cross goal before Chambers slid in and finished the job. He ripped his captain’s armband off in celebration and headed back to the corner where it started.

“We got hit on the counter, but I thought we were all over them in the second half,” Burke said. “We had 10 shots from inside their box. They were under duress for most of the second half and eventually teams crack. Sometimes they’re able to hang on and when they scored that second goal, I thought they might hang on and beat us 2-0 or 2-1.”

It was almost 2-0 to the hosts well before Benomo’s second. After earlier converting a penalty in the 12th minute, the referee awarded another one to the visitors just before halftime, calling a handball on Brandon Aubrey and pointing to the spot. Players threw their arms up in disbelief and the crowd groaned as Benomo got ready for take two. It was the sideline official who saved the Steel, claiming the ball hit Aubrey’s shoulder instead.

It remained 1-0 heading into the break and, after managing one total shot and passing under 70 percent, the hosts were lucky it wasn’t more.

“We weren’t good enough in the first half,” Chambers said. “We were rubbish in the first half. So just plain and simple, we couldn’t be any worse in the second half. We needed to up our intensity and our work rate. We did that. We could have died late on in the second half when they got the second goal, but this group has far more character than its had in the past couple years.”

“We had a really poor first half, one of our worst of the season, ” Mahoney said. “But being able to come back, especially after going down 2-0 late in the game, speaks volumes to the character and resilience of the team.”

Michee Ngalina, who was replaced by Nanco following an injury, made a lengthy dribbling run in the opening minutes, only to be halted by the very last defender in the box. Even on an off-day like Wednesday, he still threatens with pace and agility. Burke needed a like-for-like spark and didn’t hesitate to send Nanco on. He doubled his career total in assists in six minutes.

“His energy to break the last line, I think causes defenders to tire,” Burke said. “He’s tough to keep track of and when you combine him with guys like Santi (Moar) and guys like Fabian (Herbers) that can get on it and break them down on the dribble, he’s very difficult to deal with. He ended up getting us back in the game today.”

“Chris, in fairness to him, every time he comes on the field, whether it’s three minutes or whether it’s 30 minutes, 60 minutes, he produces. He gives us something different. It’s a credit to him and his mentality that he works his tail off in practice and it shows in the games when he comes in and gives us such a lift. Today he came in just before halftime and gave us a lift in the second half. It was massive.”

Bethlehem’s defense, led by Philadelphia Union center back Jack Elliott in his first appearance of 2018, also shaped up in the second 45, holding New York to just two shots on frame. One was right at McCarthy and one was out of reach. Anthony Fontana, recently on the bench for Philadelphia, started and logged 72 minutes of work.

The Steel are now making a habit of coming from behind, fresh off an impressive draw at F.C. Cincinnati over the weekend.

“Once might be coincidence, but it doesn’t happen a couple times without having character,” Chambers said.

“I’m just extremely proud of the response in the second half,” Burke said. “We could have scored two, three four goals in the second half that we didn’t get and we still got the two that mattered. Ultimately, we walk away understanding that if we start games the way we started and played the second half, we can be excellent in this league. Not just relevant, not just around the playoff line, but we can drive forward.”

Three Points

1. Do you guys know each other?

There were tons of stoppages and tons of discipline in this one. Pushing and shoving. Nodding and shrugging. It may not be a full-blown rivalry just net, but Bethlehem and New York II do not like each other.

2. Earnie’s in the house

Recently-appointed General Manager of the U.S. men’s national team Earnie Stewart was in attendance Wednesday. He’s been to a few Steel matches lately. Who’s he looking at?

3. Time for rest

Saving a point might feel even better given that the Steel now have a 10-day layoff. A couple good points against two strong sides will help the bodies rest easy.

Lineups

New York Red Bulls II: Evan Louro; Niko de Vera, Kevin Politz, Jordan Scarlett, Ethan Kutler; Chris Lema, Steve Echevarria (Cristian Casseres), Andrew Tinari; Jared Stroud, Stefano Bonomo (Amando Moreno), Ben Mines (Brian White).

Unused substitutes: Scott Levene, Tommy Reading, Lucas Stauffer, Jose Aguinaga.

Bethlehem Steel F.C.: John McCarthy, Matt Real, Brandon Aubrey, Jack Elliott, Matthew Mahoney; James Chambers, Drew Skundrich; Santi Moar, Anthony Fontana (Mike Catalano), Michee Ngalina (Chris Nanco); Fabian Herbers.

Unused substitutes: Jake McGuire, Prosper Chiluya, Ben Ofeimu.

Disipline

New York – 29’ Jordan Scarlett (Yellow Card)
Bethlehem – 35’ Anthony Fontana (Yellow Card)
Bethlehem – 45+4’ Fabian Herbers (Yellow Card)
Bethlehem – 51’ James Chambers (Yellow Card)
New York – 66’ Stefano Bonomo (Yellow Card)
New York – 81’ Cristian Cassares (Yellow Card)
Bethlehem – 89’ Chris Nanco (Yellow Card)

Scoring

New York – 12’ Stefano Bonomo (PK)
New York – 84’ Stefano Bonomo
Bethlehm – 88’ Matt Mahoney (Chris Nanco)
Bethlehem – 90+4’ James Chambers (Chris Nanco)

3 Comments

  1. Old Soccer Coach says:

    And the first comeback came earlier down in The research triangle of North Carolina, when the boys pulled two back after the 80th minute to beat North Carolina FC.

  2. I would hope Earnie was at the match – he is still under contract with the Union, not USSF.

    • Tim Jones says:

      Truth be told, he is often at Steel games.
      .
      If I were Jay Sugarman, one of the conditions of letting him breach his contract would be that he make a final, organization wide talent evaluation before he leaves.

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