Playing in the national spotlight as the USL Game of the Week, Bethlehem Steel FC showed its gritty mentally but ultimately fell to Charlotte Independence, 1-0.
After falling to the Eastern Conference leaders by a 4-0 result just three weeks ago, Steel FC sought to make a statement in the club’s first appearance at the Sportsplex at Matthews. While Independence leading scorer Enzo Martinez delivered the match’s only goal, Steel FC led the match in numerous statistical categories but were unable to get past Independence goalkeeper Cody Mizell. The keeper turned away all seven Steel FC shots on goal to collect his fourth clean sheet.
Steel FC came out strong in the opening half against the top squad in the Eastern Conference, using a high press to pin Charlotte in their defensive third. As the home team looked to adjust, Steel FC looked for an early lead only to be denied by Independence goalkeeper Cody Mizell and the Charlotte backline. Earning the first corner kick of the night, Steel FC nearly reached its goal on a poor clearance that saw chances from Hugh Roberts blocked by a defender and finally a Santi Moar curler was saved by Mizell.
As the opening half progressed, Charlotte began to showcase its league-leading offense led by Martinez. After a pair of defensive blocks and attempted clearances, Martinez found a bit of space in the defense and fired the ball past Steel FC’s Tomas Romero and into the far post netting. The goal in the 33rd minute provided last year’s USL Most Valuable Player finalist his 14th tally of 2017. Steel FC nearly answered minutes later, as Moar got a header on an Aaron Jones’ free kick that was saved by Mizell.
Chasing a goal, Steel FC applied even more pressure in the final half as the club looked to even the score line. Moar continued to create scoring chances, nearly scoring in the 61st minute. With the defense expecting another cross into the box, the 23-year-old took a few touches centrally before blasting a shot that was saved by Mizell. On the ensuing corner kick, recent Philadelphia Union signing Anthony Fontana nearly scored his first professional goal, firing a right-foot shot that forced the keeper to make a diving save. Steel FC’s final scoring chance can from the squad’s captain, James Chambers. After numerous passes, Moar fired a centering pass to Chambers situated right outside the 18-yard box. Looking to notch another remarkable goal, Chambers too was denied by a diving save.
With his club looking to tie, Romero did well to outplay his young age. After surrendering four goals against the Independence last time, the 16-year-old goalkeeper kept the club in the match with a pair of second half stops. Romero was called upon in the 74th minute, denying a counter attack chance from Martinez with a diving save of his own. In stoppage time, Romero ended the match with a career high five saves.
Steel FC caps off its busiest stretch of the season this weekend when it returns home to face off against second place Louisville City FC. The two squads will face off for the first time in 2017 at Goodman Stadium on the campus of Lehigh University and fans are encouraged to bring their final items for the Steel FC Back to School Drive to the match. Kickoff from the Lehigh Valley is scheduled for 5 p.m.