Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati
Bethlehem Steel FC experienced strong growth from its first season in 2017, managing a first appearance in the USL Cup Playoffs as numerous players took a big step forward. That growth was led by Liberian forward Seku Conneh, who scored 10 goals on the season, the highest single-season return in his professional career, which also doubled Steel FC’s single-season record. Fellow returnee Cory Burke earned international plaudits from Jamaica, earning a place in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Continuing the philosophy of bringing in young players, Matthew Real was promoted from the Philadelphia Union’s academy, with rookies Santi Moar and Chris Nanco building on solid college and PDL careers in their first professional seasons. Adam Najem also shone as a rookie on loan from the Philadelphia Union, leading the club with eight assists, as all four players had notable seasons to start their professional career, with Moar earning nomination as a finalist for the USL Rookie of the Year award.
Record: 12-12-8, 44pts
Place: Eighth in the Eastern Conference
Goals For: 46
Goals Against: 45
USL Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (L 4-0 vs. Louisville City FC)
2017 leaders: Seku Conneh (10 goals), Adam Najem (8 assists), Jake McGuire (82 saves)
Bethlehem Steel FC had few changes in the offseason, declining four options, and strengthened its squad well, led by the additions of former PDL standouts Chris Nanco and Santi Moar. The changes in the playing roster, coupled with some more attacking play proved successful as Steel FC managed to score 14 more goals in 2017 than a year ago with Seku Conneh (10 goals), Cory Burke (nine), and Moar (six) all managing more goals than the high mark for the club in 2016.
It very nearly could have been a story of close but not close enough for Bethlehem Steel FC's playoff pursuit, mirroring some late-season struggles from 2016 as it went from August 16th through to the end of the regular season, winning just twice, a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, and then a 4-2 win over Toronto FC II. Despite losing three matches in a row in August, the side claimed a place in the playoffs as it outlasted Orlando for the final spot in the Eastern Conference.
Leading the way with 10 goals, Seku Conneh saved his best for right near the end of the season against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium on Sept. 30, scoring with this impressive strike from distance.
A great through-ball opened up the Bethlehem defense but Jake McGuire was up to it in Steel FC’s visit to FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium on May 20, making a diving save at full stretch to keep his side in the match.