After watching Steel FC through 45 minutes take command of its Open Division Local Qualifying game for the 2020 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, one might get the impression that this was a seasoned, experience squad that’s been in this situation before.
The reality was, Steel FC were making its debut in US Open Cup qualifying as they dominated Germantown City FC of Maryland, winning 3-1 at Shady Side Academy on Saturday night.
“We knew what we had coming into this match. A lot of hard work over the past few years, and we put it to good use with a 3-1 win,” Brian Luchini, Steel FC manager said after the match.
From the start, even as both sides looked a bit uneasy, giving a number of balls away, Steel FC sat back in a 4-5-1 formation, calmly absorbing some pressure, but quickly took command of the match.
By the 12th minute, Steel FC were clearly on the front foot, setting up three corner kicks, sending crosses into the box and stretching its opponents by using all sides of the Shady Side field with accurate diagonal balls.
Taking its time possessing the ball around the box in the 15th minute, Steel FC found some magic when Matt Bischoff opted to play the ball back to defender Matt McDyer.
The former Penn State product drilled a shot from 30 yards out that sailed into the upper right corner past the extended arms of GCFC keeper Yusupha Fofana that gave Steel FC the early lead.
“That’s McDyer doing what he does best,” Luchini said afterwards, describing McDyer’s strike as a ‘cracker’. “He put his foot through it. We got a great deflection.
Germantown City continued to struggle to play the ball out of the back.
As the first half concluded, it was clear that Steel FC were wearing down the Maryland-based side.
Steel FC had Germantown on its heels, and stuck with a one-two punch late in the first half.
Bischoff was the table setter again — sliding a ball through for former Pittsburgh Riverhound Anthony Virgara. Once into the box, Virgara got around Fofana to tap in a clinical finish for the two-goal lead.
Only two minutes later, Bischoff intercepted a pass just beyond midfield, quickly found Christian Lewandowski making a run through the middle of the field.
Lewandowski then really turned on the jets, splitting through Germantown’s two center backs and into the box. With Fofana coming off the line, Lewandowski took a touch to the left, then slotted his shot just inside the left post to give Steel City a commanding 3-0 lead.
Steel FC’s back line were well-positioned and handled a few Germantown advances in the first half, and conceded just one corner kick.
Goalkeeper Brendan Birmingham made one save in the first half that came in the early moments when GCFC’s Mani Wolcott broke down the left side, and sent a bending shot from 16 yards. Birmingham did have to go down to retrieve it, but had it all the way.
The second half provided a more physical battle, as both sides exchanged hard tackles and yellow cards, while Steel FC’s back line dominated Germantown’s forward for much of the match. Both Lewandowski and Bischoff were assessed yellow cards.
“We were able to keep our heads level,” Luchini said. “And I haven’t seen our back line lose many headers at all.”
With Virgara, Rob Heuler and Bischoff controlling possession in the middle, Steel FC continued its assault through the early part of the second half, but couldn’t add to its lead.
A back-and-forth sequence in the 77th and 78th minutes provided a few spectacular saves.
First, Fofana was left alone, but he shut down Steel FC’s best chance of the second half when sub Ramsey Hartley had a point blank chance from eight yards out.
Germantown’s counter chance resulted in a cross from Jose Panigua on the right side to Aldo Ruiz. GCFC’s number 10 sent a header to the inside of the left post, but Birmingham lunged to make a big save.
The final ten minutes, Germantown finally flipped the script, and kept coming forward with numbers. The visitors’ persistence paid off — as Diego Velazquez buried his shot from the top of the box to close the lead to 3-1.
Germantown pressed in the dying moments to cut the lead, but couldn’t find another tally.
The next step for Steel FC, founded as a club in 2015 which has quickly risen through the ranks, will be hosting fellow Pittsburgh area club Tartan Devils Oak Avalon in the Second Round. The two teams will square off on Sunday, Oct. 20 at Highmark Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“We just want to look forward. It’s one step at a time,” Luchini said. “We’re here — in this moment doing what we do best, and that’s coming out with a victory.”
POST MATCH INTERVIEW WITH STEEL FC’s BRIAN LUCHINI