In 1916, the Bethlehem Steel Football Club won the third National Challenge Cup tournament (the predecessor to the US Open Cup), their second straight title, by beating the Fall River (Massachusetts) Rovers 1-0 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
One hundred years later, a team called Bethlehem Steel will take the field once again, this time as the Philadelphia Union’s affiliate in the United Soccer League.
Having already announced that their new USL team would play in the Lehigh Valley and at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium, the Union announced on Tuesday that the team name will be Bethlehem Steel FC.
The Union had offered an online fan voting process to choose a team name, and three of the four options included the word Steel: Lehigh Valley Steel FC, Bethlehem Steel FC, Lehigh Valley Blast, Steel SC. The winner seemed a foregone conclusion.
The announcement comes one day after the Union announced they have hired former US international and current AZ Alkmaar director of football Earnie Stewart as their new sporting director, effective Jan. 1.
The original Bethlehem Steel, who took their name from primary sponsor Bethlehem Steel Corporation, won five championships in the tournament that became the US Open Cup (1915, 1916, 1918, 1919, 1926), tied with Maccabi Los Angeles for the most in history. The club folded in 1930 during the Great Depression. The Union wore Bethlehem Steel-themed third jerseys in 2013 and 2014.
The new Bethlehem Steel will be the 12th MLS-operated team in the USL, which is expected to operate with 28 teams in 2016. Orlando City B (Orlando City), RGV FC (Houston Dynamo) and the Swope Park Rangers (Sporting Kansas City) will also be new in 2016, joining the LA Galaxy II (2014) and FC Montreal, New York Red Bulls II, Portland Timbers 2, Real Monarchs, Seattle Sounders 2, Toronto FC II and Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (2015).
The other eight MLS teams each have affiliation agreements with USL clubs.