Facing a pair of one-goal deficits, Bethlehem Steel FC showed their grit to battle back for a 2-2 draw Wednesday afternoon at Goodman Stadium.
Playing in hot and humid conditions, the two playoff-positioned clubs battled the elements and each other to a draw in their first meeting of 2017. Despite trailing on two separate occasions, leading goal-scorers Cory Burke and Seku Conneh rallied with equalizers in the second half. Burke continued his strong second-half campaign with his sixth goal in the last five matches with his tally early in the second half. After Steel FC surrendered a set piece goal, substitute Seku Conneh returned to the scorer’s column with the match’s final goal in the 78th minute.
“We’re happy with a point, that was an extremely quick turnaround from Sunday and we rolled out generally the same team, there were only two changes to the starting lineup, so I’m really proud of the energy they put forward,” Bethlehem Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke said. “We didn’t give up many chances but they have a lot of quality, and you have to respect how much quality a team like that has, so they made us pay in those few instances where they got deep into our half. Have to be really happy with Cory [Burke]’s performance up top, he gets another goal and has been on a real hot streak and it was good to Seku [Conneh] ticking again, which is going to be really important to us in the stretch run.”
In a physical contest that featured 31 fouls and five bookings, Tampa Bay jumped out to the early lead on a penalty kick conversion from their all-time leading scorer, Georgi Hristov, in the 36th minute.
After going into the locker room facing the one-goal deficit, Steel FC struck quickly with Burke’s goal in the opening minute of the half. Running onto a threaded through ball by defender Matt Real, Burke timed his run behind the defense and slotted around the keeper and inside the far post. The goal marked Real’s first professional assist for the 18-year-old while Burke extended his single-season goals record to nine.
Once again, Tampa Bay battled back and reclaimed the lead in the 55th minute on a set piece goal. Off a Marcel Schafer free kick from 40 yards out, defender Hunter Gorskie connected with the service at the far post to beat Steel FC goalkeeper Jake McGuire.
Despite another deficit, Steel FC fought back with their other scoring threat in Conneh. Entering the match in the 70th minute of play, Conneh needed just eight minutes to equalize. The tying goal began with a toe-poke interception from Adam Najem, who passed it ahead of Conneh. The 21-year-old forward from Liberia took one touch into the box before firing a hard shot across the keeper and into the siding netting for his first goal since June 11.
With the result, Steel FC extends its unbeaten streak to four matches. The club will look to extend the streak with a quick turnaround, as they travel south for another match with the Rowdies on Saturday, September 30. Kick-off from Al Lang Stadium is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.