It was so hard to score on Pittsburgh Riverhounds this season. It was even harder to score on them at home. Only the top teams in the USL Eastern Conference had scored more than one goal at Highmark Stadium.
So when Hugh Roberts — former Bethlehem Steel defender Hugh Roberts, that is — knocked home a goal in extra time to put the Riverhounds ahead 2-1, it looked as though the Steel’s season was minutes away from ending.
But James Chambers wasn’t having it. The Steel captain ripped a free kick against the left post of Pittsburgh’s goal and sent the match to penalties. Nobody on Steel missed, including teenage Union player Olivier Mbaizo, who hit the eighth and, eventually, match-winning penalty.
“It was just elation,” Steel head coach Brendan Burke said of what he felt after his side wrapped up the upset win, “Because I have so much respect for [Pittsburgh’s] staff, for their group of players that they have there. They just don’t give anything away and they play with great urgency and fight and the athleticism is scary all over the field.
“To start six teenagers in that game and come out of that environment is a highlight for most of us at this stage in our careers.”
On to Louisville
The big win sets Bethlehem up for an intriguing showdown with second-seeded Louisville City SC. The Kentucky-based club lost head coach James O’Connor to Orlando City earlier in the season and called in former Philadelphia Union head man John Hackworth to lead them forward. After some initial stumbles as the team switched formations, Hackworth has put together a fearsome beast in Louisville. The defending USL champs will enter Saturday’s contest full of confidence and sporting the top attack in the league.
Burke learned a lot from Hackworth when the latter was in Philadelphia, and he said neither he nor the former Union chief will relish knocking the other out of the postseason.
“I texted with him a little bit yesterday and we said that neither one of us are looking forward to the coaching against one another part, but looking forward to sitting down and saying hello when we get down there. I learned so much from and have a great respect for what he’s doing there already at Louisville. He has them on a hot streak, as hot as they’ve been so looking forward to seeing them and hopefully they don’t pick us apart.”
“They are experienced all over the field,” Burke readily admitted, “They won the league last year and are playing home games where they are comfortable. They’ve been good on set pieces all year, they have the hottest goal scorer in the league.
“I would say all the pressure is squarely on them in this game.”
That goalscorer is Cameron Lancaster, who banged home 26 for Louisville this season, six more than anyone else in the league. He will present a formidable test for Steel’s young defense, which includes Union academy player Ben Ofeimu. ‘Big Ben’ is coming off a stellar performance in shutting down Neco Brett of Pittsburgh, the ninth leading scorer in USL, but Brendan Burke said the credit for keeping a big goalscorer quiet goes to the full team.
“It’s important in those playoff-type games to be resilient, that’s the word that has been thrown around,” Burke said. “I think it started with the fight and we were compact which will be very important down there [in Louisville]. You have to defend in numbers and make sure you don’t expose yourself to individual matchups where a guy like that can free himself and we’ll try our best to prevent that.”
Stopping a team that scored 75 goals this year is never easy, but nothing is in the playoffs. But Chambers, who delighted in playing the villain role in Pittsburgh, argued that Steel won’t be satisfied with simply making it to the second round.
“There is no point in wanting to be here and that be enough,” he said. “We aren’t satisfied with winning just one game.”
Steel and Louisville City face off on Saturday, October 27th at 7:30PM ET on ESPN+.