Despite not playing last weekend due to the postponement of the Tampa Bay Rowdies match due to Hurricane Irma, scores from around the USL Eastern Conference went Bethlehem Steel FC’s way.
Steel FC will finally return to game action this week, 16 days between matches, when the club travels to first place Louisville City FC on Friday, September 15. While Steel FC continued to train hard and take advantage of some extra recovery days, the rest of the league battled and produced some very favorable results for Steel FC supporters. In the end, Steel FC finds itself just a single point back from the playoff line and four points back from sixth. Those four points are within reach, as Steel FC have two games in hand against sixth and seventh.
New York Red Bulls II
Sixth place, 11-11-5 (38 points, 27 GP)
Red Bulls II were the only team positioned near Steel FC to pick up a win on the weekend but it didn’t come easy against bottom of the table Toronto FC II. Playing at BMO Field, Toronto jumped out to an early lead in the 35th minute as Jay Chapman scored. Despite the early deficit, the tide went in New York’s favor twice as a pair of penalty kicks was awarded to Red Bulls II where Stefano Bonomo went 2-2 in the final minutes of the opening half. The defending USL Champions have only five games remaining, only one taking place at home. Add in the fact that all their remaining road matches are against playoff positioned teams, New York will need to improve from their 2-5-5 road record to have a chance to defend their title.
Orlando City B
Seventh place, 8-7-12 (36 points, 27 GP)
Orlando City B used a club-record 12 match unbeaten streak to climb into playoff position but it came to an end this past weekend against 14th placed Richmond on Thursday night. Playing early to beat incoming Hurricane Irma, Richmond struck twice late in the first half to snap the Orlando City B streak. Sunny Jane was the spark for the Kickers, nabbing an assist on Mikey Minutillo’s goal in the 40th minute before getting his own goal on a free kick. Just like New York, Orlando has only five matches left in 2017 but three of the final four come at Orlando City Stadium.
Eighth place, 9-9-8 (35 points, 26 GP)
After just missing out on making the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Finals with an extra time loss to New York Red Bulls, FC Cincinnati finds itself in a fight for the final playoff position. Cincinnati holds the eighth spot after earning a 1-1 draw against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on September 2 in front of 22,643 fans at Nippert Stadium. While the club has only played 26, they return to action on September 12 against Harrisburg City Islanders. Corey Hertzog stole the early lead for Pittsburgh in the third minute but Andrew Wiedeman answered in the 40th to force the two sides to settle for a point each. After playing Harrisburg, Cincinnati will wrap up its home schedule against Red Bulls II on September 16. After that, FCC will play the final four matches on the road, where they have gone 2-7-2.
Bethlehem Steel FC
Ninth place, 10-11-4 (34 points, 25 GP)
With the most remaining games left in the East at seven, September will be very busy for the squad. After traveling to Louisville on September 15, Steel FC will play three matches in six days. During the tough stretch, the squad will host Pittsburgh and play a home-and-home against Tampa Bay. Trips to Toronto FC II and Rochester Rhinos loom in October before Steel FC caps off the regular season against Saint Louis FC on Sunday, October 15.
Ninth place, 8-9-10 (34 points, 27 GP)
In-state rival Pittsburgh continues to be tied with Steel FC on points but saw a chance to leap Steel FC come up short against Louisville City FC, 3-1 on Saturday. With a final Keystone battle looming on September 24 at Goodman Stadium and points in high demand, it could be a matchup that might end up costing a club at the end of the season. Of their final five matches of 2017, Pittsburgh has three at home including two matches against Rochester and ending with Ottawa Fury FC.
Saint Louis FC
11th place, 8-12-7 (31 points, 27 GP)
Coming to the Eastern Conference hasn’t produced the success Saint Louis had hoped for this season and it got even hard after a 2-1 loss to Harrisburg on Saturday. With a draw looking inevitable, Pedro Ribeiro headed home the winner on a stoppage time corner to stun the home Saint Louis fans. Sitting four points behind the playoff line with only five matches to go, STL will need to add to their 6-5-2 home record when they host Orlando City B, FC Cincinnati and Richmond before coming to Bethlehem for the season finale.
Ottawa Fury FC
11th place, 7-9-10 (31 points, 26 GP)
Ottawa has been finding ways to grab points in their last five matches, picking up four draws including their last three games. Their most recent came against third-placed Rochester Rhinos on Saturday, as Steevan Dos Santos converted a PK in the 71st minute to offset an early Rhinos goal.TD Place Stadium will play host to numerous vital playoff battles as Ottawa entertains Louisville, Charleston and Cincinnati down the stretch.