Rochester met Bethlehem twice in the 2016 USL season and twice drew the newcomers. As Steel FC attempts to find a more productive balance between youth and experience, development and competitiveness, the Rhinos will try to exploit early season disorganization.
I spoke with Evan Villella of the Brotherly Game and the Eastern Conference Confidential podcast to discuss Saturday afternoon USL contest. I began by asking Evan about the team replenishing its roster for 2017.
We’ve seen other MLS2 teams cycle through players with almost reckless abandon (looking at NYRB II) and 3 of the top 4 minutes-earners from 2016 are gone (Ryan Richter, Taylor Washington, and Bolu Akinyode). How much turnover has BSFC seen since the end of the 2016 campaign and will that be an issue to start the season?
Where to start. I guess the biggest loss out of those three guys was Richter, which I'll hit on later. That being said, a lot of the departures were a part of a shift in directon for Steel FC. This is a pretty young club (captain James Chambers just turned 30 this offseason) with the most promising members being either Academy kids, draft picks, or younger USL guys. There's been a ton of turnover but I think it will all be for the better. It shouldn't be an issue as far as the USL contracted guys go, no.
Where the movement becomes a problem is in some guys from the Union who don't care (Anderson from last year) or don't gel with the Steel guys. If they can figure out how to address those problems, the team should be in the hunt for the Playoffs.
Last year’s captain Ryan Richter is gone, will second-year midfielder James Chambers or All-League First Team defender Hugh Roberts be able to step up and fill that leadership role?
While I think both of those guys are massive to how Steel finish this year, Chambers is the leader on the team. He's turning into one of the better playmakers in USL and can be deadly on free kicks. He had a hand in developing Union homegrowns Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty and will look to do the same with the next crop of Union hopefuls. He's a consummate professional in the locker room and wasn't afraid to literally yell at people on his team for not trying hard enough last year I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better guy to lead any team in this league than James.
Senior Jamaican international striker Cory Burke has shown glimpses of his ability, how important is it for coach Brendan Burke to get the center forward firing on all cylinders? Does the team need a Cory Burke whisperer to ensure he shows up ready to ball more often or more consistently than he did in 2016?
I would love a Cory Burke whisperer. I don't know what that is but we could have benefited from that last year, for sure. Honestly he's looked better this preseason. That might be because he's been bought (was on loan last year) or found a lot of pride and a good amount of form playing for the Reggae Boyz but he seems sharper. He should be good for about 60 minutes a game and hopefully that is enough time to get him plenty of chances every week.
Behind him is fellow Jamaican Amoy Brown and sometime Liberian International Seku Conneh. The big question mark is if Burke can't find form, can one of those guys step up? Conneh has at times outplayed Burke up top, but he went down with a bit of a shoulder "thing" during the Harrisburg friendly.
Steel play a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 depending. We'll be wary of the Rhinos counter, but it sounds like we're mostly focused on breaking down the two dollar steak tough defense Bob Lilley loves so much. Speed on the wings and getting balls into the box is our MO so if you can limit that, you should be fine. I had a 2-1 Steel win but a draw is probably in the cards.
While Evan gave in to homer temptations with his match prediction, I think 3 is too high a total goal haul for the game. With the teams focused almost as much on internal cohesion as a clear tactical plan in the season opener, this match has “draw” written all over it. I’m predicting a 1-1 result with positives for both teams to take into the rest of the 2017 USL season.
The Rhinos and Bethlehem Steel FC kickoff at 4:00PM on Saturday. The game is available on USL’s YouTube channel.