After his team’s midweek loss to Charlotte Independence, Bethlehem Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke spoke about Ben Ofeimu’s window to earn a spot on the first team, the injury sustained by Issa Rayyan, and what Union fans can expect to see if they stick around to see Steel after the Union play on Saturday.
“The thought is that Ben has 12-18 months to work his way onto the first team roster,” Burke stated. “He’s making a case for himself, he’s pushing hard, he does all the little things off the field that are going to allow him to gradually get better as our season goes on, but there’s a lot more on him this year. I don’t want to call it pressure, but there’s the weight of expectation because he’s one of our most experienced players at the age of 18. He’s really adapted well to that role and you can see improvement in him every couple of weeks.”
Burke also praised Ofeimu’s partner in back, academy midfielder-turned-defender Cole Turner.
“Cole [Turner] is actually a central midfielder through most of his development and he started there for us against North Carolina earlier in the year. I’m more than pleasantly surprised by how well he has played,” Burke admitted. “Cole is really making a case for himself as an unsigned Academy player,”
Issa Rayyan has played even more positions than Turner this season, but for the near future he will be spending his time rehabbing a tweaked hamstring.
“Issa is going to be out for a while,” stated Burke. “I thought he had played great on Saturday night and I thought he was playing well. I thought he was one of few bright spots in the first half of that [Charlotte] game. He gets beat to concede the free kick that leads to their goal, just in kind of a tussle. It wasn’t like his positioning was poor or anything like that. Issa is a big miss for us because I thought he’s been playing consistently well on both sides of the ball. It’s not going to be sever and it’s great that we have a kind of break in the schedule after this weekend, but somebody is going to be called upon to fill that position this weekend, not sure who yet, but Issa is a big miss for us. He’s a really promising young talent. I think he showed that over the first five to seven games.”
This weekend features the first of two double headers the Union and Steel will put on this season, with the second taking place on October 6. Burke is looking forward to the opportunity for his guys to play in front of the first team crowd.
“Hopefully guys that will be featuring for the first team in the not too distant future,” Burke responded when asked what fans should expect if they stick around to see his quad play on Saturday. “I would hope that because of the timing of the game people are able to hang around and watch some guys. If you were to do this last year, you would have seen [Brenden] Aaronson on the field for us and if you were to do it the year before that you would have seen [Auston] Trusty on the field for us or Mark McKenzie or Cory Burke and a lot of those guys are going to feature in the first team this weekend. It’s great, it’s an early look and it’s not just lip service because these guys are part of the core of the group now in the first team. You’re able to see who’s coming through and you’re able to see how committed our club is the youth development pipeline. I’d say there are at least two or three guys playing for us in this game that you’ll see playing in a Union jersey at some point in the near future.”
Bethlehem Steel FC will host Indy Eleven on Saturday, April 20. Kick off from Talen Energy Stadium is at 4:00 p.m. ET, as part of a double-header with Philadelphia Union hosting Montreal Impact at 1:00 p.m. ET. Tickets for the match are available here, with the match being televised on ESPN+.