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Riverhounds Rabbi Scouting Report: Bethlehem Steel FC steady and rolling

The transitive property doesn’t really work in sports, but if it did, Pittsburgh and Bethlehem should be a tight matchup. Last week the Riverhounds thumped the Richmond Kickers in a midweek tussle, 3-0. Then on Saturday, Bethlehem schwacked the Kickers 3-0. By the transitive property, then, the Hounds and the Steel should be headed for a draw. I could see that as a possible outcome, as long as the Riverhounds stay vigilant against a Steel offense that has a lot of weapons with which to hurt you, and has scored a lot of goals in the past 10 days.

Tactics and Formation

Bethlehem is a midtable team, and their style is maybe as humdrum and matter-of-fact as their 9-9-6 record. They play a 4-2-3-1, and in the first half on the road to Richmond, they preferred to press high looking for mistakes. They also played a lot of long balls, diagonals, and crosses in order to give them the ability to defend in numbers without exposing them self with risky attacks. In the second half they got a slick goal, and then spent the remainder of the half sitting back, countering quickly, and letting their opponent have the ball.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that: these are tried-and-true road tactics and a comfortable, logical approach to getting results. However, I didn’t see the Steel’s defense tested much as Richmond’s finishing was poor. Goalkeeper Jake McGuire didn’t seem tested all evening. I imagine that Christiano Francois and Neco Brett might provide more of a challenge for Bethlehem.


Chris Nanco at central midfield is quite good, and a joy to watch. He’s fast and decisive with the ball, and he’s got technical ability out the ying-yang. Observe his shake’n’bake moves to get an assist on the first Steel FC goal.


Nanco is 23-year old Canadian international who was drafted by the Philadelphia Union but signed to Bethlehem. I think he has the makings of an MLS attacking midfielder, if the right opportunities open up. He’ll need more than his current level of production – 2 goals, 4 assists in 20 games will not get an MLS General Manager excited.

At centerback is Olivier Mbazo, a 20-year-old Cameroonian. He’s a ballplaying CB, but at only 5′ 10″, I dunno if that’s the best position for them, long-term. Perhaps he’s more often used wide or in the midfield but he’s been pressed into service on the back line out of need. Mbazo had a filthy assist on Bethlehem’s third goal, a counterattack in which he put a perfect through-ball into the box for winger Michee Ngalina down the right wing. Young Mbazo has a very bright future ahead.


In three recent matches, Bethlehem Steel FC has three wins by scores of 4-1, 3-0, and 3-0. That’s pretty commanding. On the other hand, Bethlehem have played a weekend-midweek-weekend-midweek schedule the past two weeks straight. They are quite deep, considering they’ve rotated players up and down with Philadelphia Union. But they’ve been riding a lot of buses lately and playing a lot of football, and that takes a toll on both the mind and the body. Their current record renders them 33 points, enough for a playoff spot by just 2 points, so every match for the remainder of the season is likely a ‘must-win’ for the Steel.

Mark Asher Goodman is a writer for Pittsburgh Soccer Now, covering the Riverhounds, the Pitt Men's and Women's teams, and youth soccer. He also co-hosts a podcast on the Colorado Rapids called 'Holding the High Line with Rabbi and Red.' He has written in the past for the Washington Post, Denver Post, The Athletic, and American Soccer Analysis. When he's not reading, writing, watching, or coaching soccer, he is an actual rabbi. No, really. You can find him on twitter at @soccer_rabbi

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