Union Reserve, and the Steel Side

[Another special from our buddy der Fussballzuschauer, as we discuss the possibility and probability of the reserve Union players receiving field time for the new USL Bethlehem Steel FC.  You see, in the past, a few select players were sent from the Union to the affiliated USL team–the Harrisburg City Islanders–for development.  Because the soccer operations of the Steel FC will operate among and alongside the Union footballers in Chester, we’re expecting it to be a lot easier for the Union to send higher-caliber players to play with the USL side while the Union is travelling, in particular.  Anyway, d.F. takes a closer look:]

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der FussballZuschauer

ALLENTOWN, Pa

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With the very first competitive match in the history of Bethlehem Steel FC now exactly three weeks away, it is interesting to note that the new United Soccer League club still only have a baker’s dozen players under contract at present – just enough to field a proper starting eleven and bring two substitutes off the bench. For those unaware of the situation, BSFC will be taking on Syracuse University at the Philadelphia Union Training Center in Chester on Sunday, March 6th, just three hours before the Philadelphia Union open their 2016 Major League Soccer season with a match against visiting FC Dallas. Of course, the Union’s official 28-man MLS roster will be known by that date and that is something which figures to have a direct impact on BSFC head coach Brendan Burke’s squad as it prepares for its very first official match in the USL opposite host FC Montreal on Friday, March 25th.
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It remains to be seen what happens to the players currently in training camp with the Philadelphia Union down in Clearwater, Florida, who do not survive the final roster cut. Including injured United States World Cup midfielder Maruice Edu, the Union have rostered a total of 35 players for their two pre-season exhibition contests against the NASL’s Jacksonville Armada FC and MLS side Chicago Fire so far. Assuming (yes, always a dangerous thing to do here in America’s mecca of minor league sports) that none of the five players currently under contract to Bethlehem Steel FC who have appeared for the Union in pre-season already (Ken Tribbett, Mickey Daly, Ryan Richter, Derrick Jones, Bode Akinyode) actually make Philadelphia’s MLS roster, it would seem, then, that the Philadelphia Union technical staff really only have one cut to make before the season opener although there is still time for the club to add players, as just seen in the case of goalkeeper Matt Jones arriving on loan from a Portuguese first division club.
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Obviously, there is absolutely no guarantee that any player(s) released by the Union by the close of Philadelphia’s training camp would then sign a United Soccer League contract and turn up at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium sporting the colors of Bethlehem Steel FC..
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Also remaining to be seen is exactly what role Bethlehem Steel FC is to be playing as the reserve club of the Philadelphia Union. In other words, how often will little-used players on the Union’s 28-man MLS roster be assigned to play a game for BSFC in the United Soccer League in order to keep match fit by playing a game with BSFC in the United Soccer League? Furthermore, since Philadelphia will have ten squad players not in uniform for each and every MLS match – how many of these idle players will routinely be sent off to get a game with the reserve team?
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In order to get a better handle on how the Philadelphia Union have interacted with their USL affiliate in the past, it its relevant to review the season statistics of the Harrisburg City Islanders in 2015. Altogether last season, the City Islanders used 28 different players in USL league matches with exactly one quarter of that total comprising players who were on an MLS contract with the Union. The seven players sent down at some point by Philadelphia and their respective USL season stats for Harrisburg last term were as follows :
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626 min … 11 ga – 7 st … Jimmy McLaughlin, mf
522 min ….. 9 ga – 3 st … Antoine Hoppenot, mf
306 min ….. 7 ga – 3 st … Dzenan Catic, for
277 min ….. 4 ga – 3 st … Zach Pfeffer, mf
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90 min … 1 ga – 1 st … Eric Ayuk, mf
68 min … 3 ga – 1 st … Eric Bird, mf
25 min … 1 ga – 0 st … Richie Marquez, def
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goals – Hoppenot 3, Ayuk 1, Pfeffer 1, McLaughlin 1
assists – McLaughlin 1
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Three of the Union players loaned to the City Islanders last season were, in fact, regular performers for Philadelphia in Major League Soccer. The teenaged Cameroonian winger Ayuk got in 28 MLS matches (14 starts) and scored two goals while Pfeffer, the homegrown product from Upper Dublin High School, appeared in 21 MLS contests (11 starts) and also tallied two goals in 2015. And Marquez, the central defender who went the full ninety minutes in all 28 USL regular season games for a surprising Harrisburg City Islanders team which reached the playoff final in 2014, also appeared in 21 MLS matches (20 starts) last term.
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Hoppenot, the Frenchman from Princeton University who does have 69 career games and seven goals in Major League Soccer under his belt, and McLaughlin, the local boy from Malvern who played his collegiate soccer at Colgate and has three career MLS games to his credit, each only made one very brief substitute appearance for the Philadelphia Union in 2015 while the two players chosen in the 2015 MLS Superdraft, Catic (Davenport) and Bird (Virginia), went unused entirely.
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Overall, the seven players under MLS contract to the Philadelphia Union managed to log a collective total of 36 games (18 starts) and 1,914 minutes for the Harrisburg City Islanders during the 2015 USL season. Viewing matters from the prism of a 28-game schedule, that works out to a little more than one Union player on loan per match. Then again, 1,914 minutes would be the equivalent of 21.267 full games for one single player.
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Also of note is that Catic, the Bosnian striker who once played for the youth and reserve teams of storied German side 1.FC Kaiserslautern, was also sent out on loan by Philadelphia to the South Carolina RailHawks, for whom the 2nd round pick (# 31 overall) appeared in ten North American Soccer League contests and started twice last season.
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A policy of close cooperation between Bethlehem Steel FC and the Philadelphia Union seems to be the party line coming out of Chester so, here in the Lehigh Valley, the local fan base is anxious to see how that all shakes out at the end of the day.
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One player under contract to the Philadelphia Union who now appears to have a regular loan assignment to Bethlehem Steel FC written all over him is goalkeeper John McCarthy. It seems to be the consensus opinion that Andre Blake, the Jamaican who made six MLS appearances (26 saves, 9 goals conceded, 1.50 goals against average) and started the U.S. Open Cup Final last season, will be first choice at Talen Energy Stadium this season but it could very well be that the Englishman Jones, on the strength of his professional experience, could very well establish himself between the Union’s sticks soon enough. Either way, it does look as if McCarthy might not be in uniform for Philadelphia all that often this term although Blake (12 caps) is expected to be a busy man for his country’s national team this year.  
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McCarthy, who appeared in 11 MLS matches (22 saves, 18 goals conceded, 1.63 goals against average) for the Union last season, would be a most welcome addition to the Bethlehem Steel FC this spring. The 23-year-old netminder from La Salle University had an excellent campaign for the Rochester Rhinos in 2014, winning not only the Rookie of the Year title but Goalkeeper of the Year honors, as well, after being beaten just a baker’s dozen times in 18 USL matches (0.73 avg). McCarthy proved himself to be something of a penalty specialist last term after saving a combined five of nine spot kicks faced in two U.S. Open Cup games against the Rochester Rhinos and New York Red Bulls and, in an always unusual move, was brought off the bench as a substitute for the shootout following extra time in the U.S. Open Cup final against Sporting Kansas City.
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It has often been said the German World Cup champion goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich is worth five victories to his team in the league standings each and every season. Such is the impact of a genuine top class shot-stopper in a game where goal-scoring is always guaranteed to come at a real premium to begin with. Therefore, if the Philadelphia Union can only lend fledgling Bethlehem Steel FC just one player per United Soccer League game, perhaps it would be most wise to wish for a quality goalkeeper.
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Note – both Hoppenot and McLaughlin have signed with expansion club FC Cincinnati could both very well be in the starting line-up for the visitors when Bethlehem Steel FC take the field for their very first USL regular season match at home on Sunday, April 3rd.


Categories: Bethlehem Steel FC, Kram's Korner - From the Club Level

3 replies

  1. two points of detail: the Union game on March 6th is away to Dallas, the Union will be the visiting side, according to the schedule on the Union website. And Catic played for the Carolina Railhawks who are physically located in North not South Carolina.

    Union fans are equally curious how the relationship between the two squads will work. A useful exercise is to juxtapose the two schedules and look for obvious opportunities, given the parameters of travel times, locations, and appropriate rest. but there is no body of rules published by MLS that I have been able to find to cover the relationship between the owning club and the wholly owned affiliate, a situation which is in its third year of existence only, as this is LA Galaxy II’s – Los Dos, so-called – third season upcoming. Those of us who are mildly cynical about MLS’s secrecy may be forgiven for suspecting that the league office is making it up as it goes along (see Jermaine Jones last second coin flip after the Fire had done all the work, etc., etc.)

    A parenthetical comment, be open to the possibility that Ken Tribbett may make the first team. So far, the Union’s behavior makes him seem like the number two left center back. If he is back in Clearwater today, and continues to see minutes after the first eleven have put in their designated shifts, he might make the big club.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Coach … Not sure where I got the “South” thing from so I’m glad you straightened that out. Must have been thinking about South Carolina Stingrays, who are the ECHL affiliate of the AHL’s Hershey Bears, of course. Hier bin ich “der Eishockeyzuschauer” auch, natuerlich!

      As long as I am confessing to stuff, I must admit that I haven’t tried to follow an American professional soccer team since the old Pennsylvania Stoners were doing stuff like winning American Soccer League titles and cranking out home unbeaten streaks lasting well over thirty games back in the day. “Arcane” – this is how one friend of mine who is extremely familiar with Major League Soccer describes their regulations. Things certainly seem to be done differently as compared to how things work in, say, Germany, but that’s okay – I’m just glad I know who der ehemalige Bundesligaspieler Jermaine Jones is!

      To me, it’s all part of the fun of the exercise of following the Union training camp. Looking to see how many minutes the five players currently under contract to Bethlehem Steel FC get in Philadelphia’s test matches. And, of course, watching out to see if actually of them actually have a chance to make the MLS roster.

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