Bethlehem Steel FC Kick Off Second Season at Home

Feb 18, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder Marcus Epps (20) and Tampa Bay Rowdies defender Darnell King (2) look to gain control of the ball in the first half in the 2017 Rowdies Suncoast Invitational at Al Lang Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder Marcus Epps (20) and Tampa Bay Rowdies defender Darnell King (2) look to gain control of the ball in the first half in the 2017 Rowdies Suncoast Invitational at Al Lang Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2017 USL season is underway and Bethlehem Steel F.C. look to impose themselves upon the eastern conference playoff picture. With key players and fresh young talent at their disposal, the sky is the limit in their second season of action.

Saturday will see Bethlehem Steel F.C. take on the Rochester Rhinos to open up their second full campaign in the United Soccer League.  After an inaugural season that resulted in them missing out on playoff action, the Lehigh-based team enters 2017 with a slowly forming identity that is made up of hungry, young talent led by European veteran captain James Chambers in the midfield.

Head coach Brendan Burke has had a far less chaotic off-season than 2016 with the team having some sense of stability that is hard to come by in any team’s first year of competitive action. With key players like USL Defender of the Year candidate Hugh Roberts and Jamaican international Cory Burke returning to the squad, there are tangible pieces to build on this season as many of the young Union homegrown academy products and MLS SuperDraft picks look to make a name for themselves within the organization.

"“We’ve had plenty of time to prepare” Burke stated in his press conference earlier in the week. “That’s left us in a good place in terms of our fitness. Generally, we’re healthy and we’re in a good mindset as you would be starting the year.”"

Here’s what you need to know going into this match-up against the eastern conference opposition from Rochester, New York:

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Bethlehem Steel will host the Rhinos at Goodman Stadium on Lehigh University’s campus this Saturday at 4 pm. The game has been promoted across the Delaware valley and offers various ticket packages for families and college students alike in order to draw a similar crowd that attended last year’s inaugural home match.

The support for this club stems from its affiliation with the Philadelphia Union as well as the deep soccer history connected with the great Bethlehem area. Groups such as the East End Army and the I-Beam Ultras have planted the early seeds of creating an exciting atmosphere for USL action as well as promoting the club throughout the Philadelphia region.

Bethlehem Steel FC
Jan 10, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Team Chaos midfielder Chris Nanco moves the ball against Team Copa during the first half at StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

Much of the excitement around this 2017 squad revolves around the returning faces that produced valiantly for Steel last season as well as new faces who look to break into the starting XI and begin their professional careers with a bang. SuperDraft selections Santi Moar and Chris Nanco both possess natural ability coming up the wings and challenging opposition one-on-one to create chances.

Moar led the team in scoring over the course of the preseason while Nanco has had his opportunities playing with the Union down in Clearwater. Yosef Samuel will be another name to watch up top as the Union homegrown academy product has impressed many within the organization leading to him being one of the first few signings in club history.

As one of USL’s top defenders over the past 4 years, Hugh Roberts will look to continue leading the back line alongside newcomers Matthew Real and Matt Mahoney who signed for the club during the offseason. Aaron Jones and Jack Elliott may also see time in the back as the SuperDraft selections look to get their respective professional reps in before being called up to first team action.

Bethlehem Steel FC
Jun 17, 2015; Richmond, VA, USA; Richmond Kickers midfielder Hugh Roberts (8) and Columbus Crew SC midfielder Ethan Finlay (13) battle for the ball in the first half of the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup at Richmond City Stadium. Crew SC won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

James Chambers will be the controlling force in the middle of the field, tallying three goals and four assists last season. The Irish midfielder has adopted the role as the veteran leader of this club and has been a key influence in the development of the younger players due to his Europa League experience during his time in Ireland.

Bethlehem Steel FC
Mar 7, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; MLS Commissioner Don Garber (M) walks from the indoor playing fields with students from the academy at the Philadelphia Union Academy. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Rochester enters the season with a relatively fresher loom as well and with some ties to Union past as well. Raymond Lee signed with the Rhinos after previously entering American professional soccer by ways of being drafted by Philadelphia in 2015. Defender Joseph Farrell will be a key focal point in Steel’s attack; not to mention his five goals for Rochester last year makes him an especially lethal set-piece threat.

The loss of their leading goal scorers in Christian Volesky and Steevan Humberto Fortes dos Santos does, however, leave a void in regards to offensive firepower which could benefit Steel in their approach to the game.

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This season promises to be one full of excitement and anticipation for both the future landscape of the Philadelphia Union and the hungry fanbase in Bethlehem, PA ready to watch their local team compete against formidable opposition across the United Soccer League.