All seemed well at the press conference on Wednesday. Bethlehem mayor Robert Donchez, Philadelphia Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart, Lehigh athletic director Joe Sterrett, and Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke gave a very nice introduction to year 2 of the Bethlehem Steel FC experience. Lehigh University's president's house was glowing with optimism and that was nice to see and hear. The theme of the event seemed to emphasize continued growth between the 4 parties. The mayor proclaimed April 1, 2017 "Bethlehem Steel Football Club" day. This of course is the home opener. A nice gesture that will hopefully kick off a season full of such growth.
I couldn't help but notice one key word pop up a lot during the event. That word was attendance. If the attendance grows this year, i really do believe the relationships will too. If it doesn't? Well, let's just all do our very best to make sure we don't have to find out. Those of us who went to many if not most Steel FC games last year know that the weather was a huge culprit in keeping attendance numbers down. It was either freezing, thunderstorming, or crazy hot and humid for easily 80% of the 15 home games last. I remember finally getting one nice day mid-season and the bottom section of the stands was packed. But that took awhile. Lehigh AD Joe Sterrett at the press conference referred to year 1 as a "first date". Year 2 is here now is obviously the next date. Its important to note that there is no marriage here, not even going steady. Unlike hockey and baseball, there is no new grand sport specific stadium built yet. As Bethlehem soccer fans its our turn to start batting our eyelashes and giggling at corny jokes...and get our butts in the seats! Then maybe the Union will pop the question!
All i am saying is don't take this experience for granted. Each game is truly a celebration of the sport. Its so cool seeing all the familiar local soccer faces in the crowd. Each and every game is like a mini-reunion. The play is at a nice competitive level consisting of a super cool international mix of talent. Its awesome seeing these different styles of play come together on one field. Then add in the fact some of these guys might eventually graduate to the philly team. I mean if you didn’t enjoy seeing Derrick Jones starting for the Philadelphia Union after watching him develop all last year for the Steel FC then you just don’t enjoy this game, period! In a sense I kind of feel like a tiny bit of me made the show with him, it’s a cool connection you get with the players when you are this up close.
Lastly I can’t emphasize enough what it means for the game locally to have kids be able to envision first-hand professional soccer in our own backyard. These are role models kicking the ball around right in front of us. It did me wonders watching the Stoners back in the 80s and helped me carve out a nice little soccer career here in Bethlehem. I know I’ve talked to many others who feel the same way. Who knows how many this team can help inspire in the years to come. All I know is that EVERYTHING that is soccer-related in this area can only benefit from having this team here. That includes the rec leagues, clubs, and schools, and then on to any and all soccer related businesses as well. It’s a no brainer.
Is this a make it or break it season for Professional Soccer in Bethlehem? I don’t know, and sure do hope not. Because I know one family who loves the experience, from my dad down to my son. But I do think we have something to prove to the mothership aka the Philadelphia Union. All may be right as rain. Either way, personally I don’t think last year represented our best efforts in supporting the team and the sport. Lots of that was the weather, some of that was perhaps a lack of success, and maybe even concession prices hurt too. Whatever the excuse, just weigh that versus the alternative --- not having the product here at all and all that may not seem so bad anymore.
We all know Bethlehem, PA is a classic American soccer town if not THEE classic American soccer town. Perhaps for the sake of the future of the sport here locally we can let the rest of the country in on that little secret too and take it up a notch. Thanks for the read and GO STEEL!