After years of discussion in the Lehigh Valley soccer community, the area is finally becoming home to a United Soccer League-affiliated professional team.
The team, an affiliate of the Philadelphia Union, will be called the Bethlehem Steel FC and will utilize Lehigh’s Goodman Stadium as its home field.
The region is home to professional sports teams including the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Philadelphia Flyers’ AHL team.
The team’s name, Bethlehem Steel, comes from a previously established team in the Bethlehem area called the Bethlehem Steel F.C. which dates back to 1907. The addition of this professional team ties in the rich history of Bethlehem and the steel industry, while also enhancing the long tradition of soccer in the Bethlehem area.
The logo features a combination of the Bethlehem Steel’s I-beam mark and the Union’s badge. The team’s colors will be will be blue and gold with the addition of red to draw from the Bethlehem Steel logo.
Starting in March 2016, the Steel will play a 28-game season with 14 games played at Goodman Stadium. The team is predominantly a summer team, so sports fans in the area are encouraged to attend. The team also provides the opportunity of exposure for young players in the area aspiring to play professional soccer.
“I think this presents a great opportunity for soccer fans and families to watch games in a really good environment,” said Dean Koski, the Lehigh men’s soccer coach. “Also, the opportunity to have a relationship with a USL team is great for our players who want to play pro.”
Lehigh has had six former players compete in the USL, and Koski has been a continued supporter of the team playing in the Bethlehem area. He believes the move is a win-win for both the Lehigh Valley and the USL.
Before deciding on Goodman Stadium, the team was also considering Nashville, Tennessee, and Harrisburg as options for the team’s home field. Goodman Stadium’s proximity to Philadelphia, its previous history with soccer, and the 16,000-seat stadium that is generally vacant during the spring season made it the best option for the team’s home field.
According to the Director of Athletic Facilities Allen Biddinger, years of planning and negotiating went into this deal to utilize Goodman Stadium. Lehigh had to ensure it had the police and medical capacity to host the Steel’s games as well as the availablity in the school’s athletic schedule.
Besides providing revenue to the Lehigh athletic department, the team will also provide exposure for Lehigh athletic events.
“Our hope is that there will be some fans that come out to the Steel games and have a good time and want to repeat that by coming to a Lehigh soccer or football game,” Biddinger said.
Starting in March, the games will be easily accessible and affordable for sports fans in the Lehigh Valley. The hope for the team to draw a few thousand fans to each game, leading to increased promotion of professional soccer while also exposing spectators to Lehigh Athletics at the same time.