Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Entering the pressure of the USL Cup Playoffs for the first time on Friday night as a major underdog, No. 8-seed Bethlehem Steel FC’s goal was to put No. 1-seed Louisville City FC under pressure on their home turf at Slugger Field, and get an all-important opening goal.
As it had so many times before this season, however, Louisville’s ability to dictate the tempo and take its opponent out of their comfort zone put paid to Steel FC’s plans. A pair of goals in either half saw the hosts drove into the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a 4-0 victory in front of 6,378 fans.
“We got beat by a better team tonight,” said Steel FC Head Coach Brendan Burke. “Louisville were excellent and they should be really proud for where they are at as a club and a city. They are certainly on the map. They have a lot of experience throughout the team and it showed tonight.”
Bethlehem had been put under similar pressure in its most recent trip to Slugger Field on Sept. 15, but on that occasion the side was able to weather the storm and twice take the lead. In Friday’s opening game of the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs, Louisville’s pressure forced turnovers as Bethlehem’s front runners were rarely able to get into space. City’s Paolo DelPiccolo and Paco Craig in particular were stellar as they repeatedly ended attacks before they began for Steel FC.
“Almost all of the individual battles tonight and that’s what it all boils down to when both teams are looking to press and get out on the run,” said Burke. “You have to win battles in space and our guys competed with maximum effort but came up on the wrong end of it. … It just felt that the occasion was big and we weren’t able to meet the demands of the game.”
That said, there were positive moments. The young trio of Matt Real, Auston Trusty and Derrick Jones all showed the potential they possess, but at times the inexperience showed as well. Real in particular was given a tough time by Louisville’s George Davis IV, with the former All-League selection creating three scoring chances and three shots overall.
U.S. U20 internationals Trusty and Jones performed better, as both won the majority of their duels and Trusty finishing with five interceptions and five clearances as his anticipation of potential threats continued to shine through. Jones, meanwhile, was sharp with his passing, completing 39 of 48 passes.
“They’ve had a long, whirlwind year when you think about all the places they’ve been and game they’ve played,” Burke said of Jones and Trusty. “I thought there were both good tonight and thought maybe a mental lapse here or there on the first and second goal losing marks. Outside of that, the progress they made this season is what we’re all about as a club.”
As Steel FC’s second season wraps up with a disappointing conclusion, Burke paid tribute Louisville, which more than lived up to its status as the top side in the Eastern Conference this postseason.
“I think the occasion was big for us but that starts and ends with me,” said Burke. “We tried to press and make the game fast and they were more than able to meet the challenge so full credit to Louisville because they could go all the way.”