Bethlehem Steel FC have been the pipeline for Philadelphia Union all season long, playing a key role in helping first team players stay match fit, and improving skills for younger players that will be looking to get promoted to the first team. It’s the added benefit for MLS teams to own and operate their USL-affiliate. But getting the buy-in from staff has been most important.
“They’re always going to take precedence over our needs,” head coach Brendan Burke said. “Everyone here, and every ounce of their energy, is behind the first team and their success. And every decision made at our level, Reading and the Academy, is with them in mind. There is a real belief in the project, and in Earnie, Jim, Chris and the ownership group.”
The team is beyond just an affiliate though – they have an identity of their own in Lehigh Valley. Captain Ryan Richter, a Southampton, Pa. native and La Salle University graduate, leads by example. The 27-year-old right back has been at the heart of Burke’s plans all year long.
“I think it’s a tough task for guys that are just starting their career, and some guys that are younger than that,” Richter said. “So it’s a good test for them, to see what it’s like traveling five weekends on the road. It’s the reality of our sport – sometimes that happens and it’s tough to manage it on your body and mentally as well. But I think we got off to a good and we’ll see over the next games if we can continue that.”
Even with the constant changes in the roster, Steel FC have been able to start a successful campaign. They are currently sitting in ninth place in the USL Eastern Conference. The team is currently in the midst of a five-game road trip, gaining points from the first three.
Currently on the longest unbeaten away run, Steel FC are looking to stretch their record to five this weekend in Cincinnati.
“Yeah I think when you are getting good results, it puts a good mood around the team, which always helps,” Richter said. “When you come into games with confidence, I think it helps give you a better opportunity to win that game. Right now we’re just going to try to keep that going, and we are going into the weekend to see if we can keep that going.”
With the tough attitude that coach Burke has embedded into the Steel FC players, they will look to end their inaugural season on a high note.