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Soccer Night in PA showcased generosity, talent in local soccer community

Charity event was a special night for soccer and the community

It’s not often that a head coach praises the referees after a game without a hint of sarcasm, but West Chester United head coach Blaise Santangelo was doing just that after the Soccer Night in PA charity his club hosted on Tuesday night.

“I thought it was wonderful that the refs decided to forgo their fees, which allowed us to raise several hundred more dollars straight to the charity for the night and it was great to see them give back as well as the rest of the soccer community,” Santangelo said.

The two referee crews - Michael Syrotiak, Dan Richman, Dan Pannullo and Stan Nagle for the first game; Josh Encarnacion, Melvin Holmes, Pat Sudol and Stetson Fenster for the second - were among dozens of volunteers that chipped in to the make the charity night a success.

Others like Downingtown East High School art teacher Rebecca Lister, who oversaw a face painting operation for kids, and the tireless pep band (also from Downingtown East) that played for 180 minutes of game action all came together for an event that drew a couple hundred people on a weeknight and raised about $1,300 for Newtown Youth & Family Services, a nonprofit that works in the community still recovering from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012.

“Simply put, good things can happen from bad things,” Newtown Pride FC head coach Mike Svanda said in remarks to the four teams and the crowd during a break between the games. “I think that this is a really good example of that.”

Svanda’s team won 3-2 in a back and forth match against a Bethlehem Steel FC side that mixed in regulars with a couple Philadelphia Union Academy players and members of the Academy and YSC Sports technical staff, including former first-teamer Fred.

Aiding Newtown Pride’s efforts was a familiar player in goal, Philadelphia Union Academy grad Andrew Verdi, who made a spot start against a Steel team he’s spent time training with this summer. He was one of several players on the field Tuesday with either ties to local youth clubs or the Philadelphia Union Academy.

Academy grad Joey DeZart started in the midfield for a reserve-heavy Reading United side, which fell 5-1 to West Chester United in the second match. Joining him were brothers CJ Smolyn and Kevin Smolyn on the back line, former Continental FC teammates who will be playing together again this fall at St. Francis University. Recent YSC Academy graduate and Continental FC defender RC Williams came off the bench for Reading, which got its lone goal in the second half from JJ Williams.

West Chester United, which has found early success in its first season in the NPSL, featured a number of current and former college players from the region.

Franklin & Marshall forward Ryan Fincher opened the scoring off an assist from Kyle Martyn, who later scored a goal of his own and former Drexel and SIU Edwardsville forward Joe Sales had an assist and a goal from the penalty spot. Philadelphia Union Academy grad and West Chester University midfielder Brett Glasco and La Salle midfielder Matt Robinson added goals in the second half.

While both games were entertaining to watch, it was, as Bethlehem Steel FC defender Charlie Reymann put it, the reason for the gathering that ultimately won out in the end.

“It’s the first time I’ve even been a part of something like this and it is strange because you want to win but at the same time, you sit back and think about what we are playing for and why this is going on and we’re glad to be a part of the community,” Reymann said.