West Chester United's entry into the National Premier Soccer League has made possible a new local derby in the fourth tier of American soccer with returning Keystone Conference club Junior Lone Star FC.
Junior Lone Star will be West Chester United's first opponent in the semi-pro NPSL when they make the trip down Route 3 to West Chester's complex on Saturday, May 13. The 7 p.m. game will be the first leg of the Route 3 derby and the newly created Kildare's Cup, which will be awarded to the team that wins the series each season.
The cup is being sponsored by Kildare's Pub in West Chester.
Kildare's co-owner Dane Gray sees the local derby as a way to promote a level of soccer that has been a key component of fandom across Europe for generations.
"I think if you look at big soccer nations throughout Europe, a lot of the passion comes from local teams," said Gray, who grew up in Australia and spent time in Ireland before coming to the states. "You support your local team regardless of the division."
The inaugural cup will be awarded at the completion of the return fixture in Landsdowne on June 7 at Bonner & Prendergast Catholic High School, Junior Lone Star's home field.
"We could not have asked for a better game to start the season,” Lone Star head coach Neewilli Saie said. “United are a really good side to face out of the gate. Though this will be their first season in the NPSL, both teams know each other very well. I'm pretty sure both sides will go out there to win the match. We are excited to have our brothers at the other end of Route 3 joining us and we can't wait to start the 2017 NPSL season on Saturday!"
Junior Lone Star joined the NPSL in 2012 and returned to the league in 2016 after a one-year hiatus. The Keystone Conference also includes a team in Bucks County, Buxmont Torch, and Hershey FC as well as Electric City Shock in Scranton, two teams in New York (Greater Binghamton FC Thunder and Clarkstown SC Eagles) and one in New Jersey (New Jersey Copa FC).
“The derby is going to be awesome,” West Chester head coach Blaise Santangelo said. “It's going to be awesome for the game, for the communities and for the league.”
The club’s U23 teams will be playing a friendly before the main event at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
“We are truly hard competitors, but at the end of the game there's a lot of respect,” Santangelo said.
For Gray, who became the operating partner of Kildare's 18 months ago, sponsoring the derby makes perfect sense for a business that regularly shows soccer and rugby matches to diehard fans of the international game.
"Soccer and community are a big thing in an Irish pub," he said. "So this just fits."