Despite a strong comeback effort, Bethlehem Steel FC opened its second season in the United Soccer League with a 3-2 loss to Rochester Rhinos Saturday afternoon at Goodman Stadium on the campus of Lehigh University.
Steel FC found itself facing a two-goal deficit after the opening 34 minutes but equalized with penalty kick conversions from Seku Conneh and Philadelphia Union forward Charlie Davies. Rochester withstood numerous attempts from Steel FC’s offense over the final 15 minutes and capitalized on a quick counter attack to take the three points.
The opening match of the 2017 campaign also saw the professional debut of numerous players for Steel FC. The list included starters: Tomas Romero in net, right back Aaron Jones, midfielders Adam Najem and Josue Monge and forwards Marcus Epps and Santi Moar. Romero also became the first player born after 2000 to earn a start for the club.
“I thought we did well to push back into the game and probably deserved more after hitting the bar,” Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke said. “It’s disappointing to push back into a game like that and not fully recover and walk away with three points or even one point. I thought we had two lapses in the second half and one we paid for with a goal.”
Rochester collected the first tally at Goodman Stadium in the 15th minute on a goal from Darius Madison. The Philadelphia native found spaced after collecting a pass from Mike Garzi and fired a shot into the right side of the net from close range. The Rhinos doubled their lead nearly 20 minutes later after a Steel FC foul in the penalty area gave the visitors a penalty kick. Wal Fall beat a diving Romero for the conversion for the 2-0 lead.
Despite the scoreline, Steel FC battled back and turned the momentum before the halftime whistle. Monge started the comeback effort with a scramble inside the box resulting in the 18-year-old drawing a foul and a point to the penalty spot. Seconds later, the deficit was only one as Davies went to his right for Steel FC’s first goal of 2017.
With momentum on their side, the team continued pushing for an equalizer that finally came in the 72nd minute after strong efforts by substitutes Cory Burke and Conneh. After a long throw in from left back Giliano Wijnaldum, Conneh flicked on a pass to Burke inside the box with the Jamaican National Team member drawing a foul and another penalty kick. Conneh stepped up and calmly fired a shot into the left side.
The result wouldn’t hold as Rochester delivered the final goal of the match in the 88th minute with a goal from substitute Jochen Graf on a quick counter attack that saw Madison’s headed pass beat Romero and get tapped in by Graf.
Bethlehem Steel FC continues its season-opening homestand next weekend when the team hosts FC Cincinnati. The two teams will square off at Goodman Stadium on Sunday, April 9 with kick-off slated for 4 p.m.