When you look at the gamely 18’s announced before each Bethlehem Steel FC match, one unique item jumps off the page. Age. While jokes have been made the impact from members of the Philadelphia Union Academy are no laughing matter.
As Steel FC fought its way and secured a postseason berth into the USL Cup Playoffs, 41 individuals each played a part in the team’s success. In that group, 11 players from the Union Academy went up against older and experienced veterans and took the next step in their careers.
Ranging from the ages to 16 to 18, the Academy combined for 41 total appearances and 27 starts in Steel FC 32-game regular season. In the over 2,500 minutes devoted to youth, Steel FC saw numerous successes.
Back on April 1 in Steel FC’s regular season opener, the youth movement was shown to the league as goalkeeper Tomas Romero and midfielder Josue Monge collected their first starts in the USL. Months later, Romero racked up numerous league firsts by becoming the youngest keeper to win a league match when Steel FC went on the road defeated Ottawa Fury FC, 2-1.
Weeks later, Steel FC battled in-state rival Pittsburgh Riverhounds to a 1-1 draw to extend the club’s unbeaten streak to eight matches. With the Union hosting an exhibition against Swansea City, three players (Tiger Graham, Seth Kuhn and Brenden Aaronson) made their USL debuts.
The club saw another one of its Academy regulars take the next step of his career in July, when midfielder Anthony Fontana signed a professional contract with the Philadelphia Union as a Homegrown Player.
When colleges restarted in August, Steel FC welcomed a new class of youth players and saw immediate impacts from a pair of midfielders that helped the club to its postseason berth. Playing in the midfield, Aaronson and Michael Pellegrino collected their first professional starts in a hostile Tampa Bay Rowdies environment. The duo went the distance in the midfield and helped Steel FC collected a crucial draw to control its own destiny. In each of Steel FC’s final matches of the season, both were called upon to start again.
With the strides made in the 2017 regular season, a strong foundation had been laid that should lead to much more success in the coming years for Bethlehem Steel FC.