They have the same initials, they’re both based in the same town and now two amateur soccer teams based in West Chester can claim that they’ve made it all the way to a national final in the same year.
West Chester United fell short in its attempt to bring the National Amateur Cup trophy back to the Philadelphia region for the first time since 1974 over the summer at the final in Wisconsin. Now it’s West Chester University’s chance to play for a trophy in the Division III men’s national championship today in Pittsburgh.
The Golden Rams advanced to the final — a first for the program since they won the 1961 title prior to the division split — with a come-from-behind overtime win over Cal Poly Pomona on Thursday. The game-winner was scored by Philadelphia native Jason Pixley, who is one of several players on the squad who spent the summer with West Chester United.
Pixley was part of the local club’s U23 program last summer along with college teammates Nick Jachwak and Nick Meola while other teammates like Daniel Grindrod (who had the assist on Pixley’s winner) played for the club’s Northeast Elite Soccer League team and Kyle Hoops, Sami Phelps and James Wood played with the National Premier Soccer League team.
“We just think it’s wonderful for West Chester,” West Chester United head coach Blaise Santangelo said, noting how all but a couple of the players on the team are from the immediate area. “I just think it shows how much talent we have in this tri-state area.”
Hoops, a senior from Phoenixville who was named a third-team All-American earlier this week, gained a lot of confidence coming out of a summer competing in the NPSL and has been a key player for the Golden Rams in their postseason run.
“It was huge for me this year getting to play with just a bunch of great players in the area whether they are current or former D1 players,” Hoops said. “Blaise has done an excellent job of recruiting top talent and getting people excited to come out and play.”
Since Benn has built his roster with a different approach from many other teams in Division 2 that load their rosters with international talent most of his players are in the area over the summer looking for opportunities to play.
“Certainly the program Blaise runs in the summer is very important in their development as players,” he said. “We’re very thankful that we are where we are and there are so many great options for our guys.”
The connection between the program and the local club begins much earlier at the youth level under the West Chester United and Penn Fusion Academy banner. In addition to Hoops, Phelps and Wood, Eric Greer, who scored the equalizer on Thursday, Austin Eveland, Kendall Walkes and Cameron Peploe from this year’s team spent time with Penn Fusion.
That means a significant portion of the roster — the one that’s brought West Chester University all the way to the national title — has spent a lot of time playing soccer in and around West Chester, which means they’ll have plenty of support not only at Highmark Stadium today but around the state and the region, pulling for them to bring back a trophy.
Today’s game kicks off at noon and can be streamed live on NCAA.com.