Bethlehem Steel headed to USL playoffs for first time

While the Union play out another lost season, the team’s minor-league affiliate is going to the playoffs for the first time.

Bethlehem Steel clinched a berth in the USL’s postseason with a game to spare Wednesday night, thanks to other results around the league.

Steel currently sit in seventh place among the 15 teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference. They can move up to sixth with a home win in Saturday’s season finale against Saint Louis FC at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium (3 p.m., live video streaming here via YouTube). They could also fall to eighth if they lose and FC Cincinnati jumps over them.

But at least head coach Brendan Burke and his players — many of whom are noteworthy Union prospects — know the playoff berth is secure. The top eight teams in the conference go to the postseason, and ninth-place Orlando City B is done for the year.

Here’s how the USL standings look heading into the weekend, which will give you a sense of which team Steel might face in the playoffs. The first tiebreakers are total wins and goal difference, so I’ve included those stats with teams where it might matter as a tiebreaker:

1. Louisville City FC, 59 points (clinched first place)
2. Tampa Bay Rowdies, 53 points (regular season over)
3. Charleston Battery, 51 points (14 wins, +19 goal difference)
4. Rochester Rhinos, 50 points (13 wins, +7 goal difference)
5. Charlotte Independence, 48 points, (13 wins, +13 goal difference)
6. New York Red Bulls II, 44 points, (13 wins, -2 goal difference)
7. Bethlehem Steel, 43 points, (12 wins, +1 goal difference)
8.
FC Cincinnati, 43 points, (11 wins, -3 goal difference)

The USL’s playoff format is single-elimination rounds at the highest seed. There’s no re-seeding, so Bethlehem could get a home game if there are other upsets.

If the matchup ends up being against Tampa, there would be a few interesting storylines. The Rowdies’ roster includes former Union midfielders Leo Fernandes and Walter Restrepo, one-time Union prospect Georgi Hristov, and former Chelsea and English national team star Joe Cole.