Bethlehem Steel FC soccer is born
Bethlehem Steel conjures memories for many people throughout the Lehigh Valley and the Philadelphia Union thought it was the perfect representation for their new USL franchise in Bethlehem.
At a packed press conference Tuesday afternoon at SteelStacks, the franchise was officially named Bethlehem Steel FC as they head into their inaugural season this spring.
Fans had the option to vote between the winning name, as well as Lehigh Valley Steel FC, Lehigh Valley Blast and Steel SC, along with write-in ballots, but going back to the roots of the Lehigh Valley’s first and most successful soccer club had a winning tune to it.
The original Bethlehem Steel F.C. was founded in 1907 and won five National Challenge Cups. Now they’ll being looking for their own titles in the USL, as well as helping the Union bridge their gap of youth players to the professional ranks.
“Putting the team here is such an important piece for a professional franchise,” said Union head coach Jim Curtain. “The job is to put together a team that represents the blue-collar, hard-working nature of this town.”
The Union have the top academy in the country and Bethlehem Steel FC will feature many of their top prospects, along with first-team players and rising stars in Major League Soccer.
The franchise is slated to open play at Lehigh’s Goodman Stadium in March of 2016 and feature a logo that combines Bethlehem Steel’s I-beam mark, wrapped by the Union’s snake emblem.
The color combination represents the Union’s primary colors, as well as the incorporation of the traditional I-beam red.
“Well, the name of the team was driven by the fans and with all the history of the team, it was a logical choice,” said Union minority owner Richie Graham. “The USL is a critical part of developing players and it’s the environment our top academy prospects and prospects across the country can be challenged.
“So, as it relates to the logo, we wanted something that can stand on its own and tell a story.”
The original Bethlehem Steel soccer club was formed by a collection of steel workers and in 1913, Bethlehem Steel built the Bethlehem Steel Athletic Field, which was the first soccer field in the country with stadium seating.
In 1917, the team turned professional and carried over their backbone of having steel workers as the club’s predominant players.
Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez spoke about the club’s history during last week’s press conference and is proud of the continued revitalization on the old steel site and the continued remembrance of the Steel moniker through the new USL side.
“Ten years ago this was one of the largest brown fields in the United States,” Donchez said. “Today, with the development of ArtsQuest, PBS 39 and Sands Casino, it’s become a tourist attraction and arts and entertainment destination.
“I want to thank the Philadelphia Union for choosing the city of Bethlehem as a place to call home for this team.”
Curtain mentioned that there will be open tryouts for players in the area for the new team and announcements for those open dates will come in the future, but Tuesday’s announcement was an exciting day for all involved.
“This is a huge step in the process for our organization,” said Graham. “We’ve invested a lot in the youth academy and now to be apart of the USL, it’s like the finishing process of integrating everything together. This is a new thing for the country and American soccer. We’re very excited about this team and Bethlehem.”
The Union have appointed Brendan Burke as head coach of the franchise. Burke served as the head coach of Reading United, the Union’s PDL affiliate, from 2008 to 2013, and from 2011 to 2013 was also an assistant coach with the Union.