Very little separated Keystone Conference rivals West Chester United and Junior Lone Star this season so it wasn’t surprising that the two local National Premier Soccer League sides would need extra time and penalties to decide their playoff tilt on Wednesday night in South Philly.
The rivals split the regular season series, each scoring a road win, and finished only three points apart in the standings (Junior Lone Star in second place with 24 points, West Chester in third with 21). But a save by West Chester United goalkeeper Charlie Sales in the penalty shootout (his second of the shootout) spoiled an otherwise stellar evening for Stars striker Anthony Allison and set up a conference final match-up Saturday between FC Motown and West Chester. West Chester won the shootout 4-3, battling back after Prince Monyan saved the first kick of the shootout.
“It’s always a difficult game, coming down here, it’s a local rival; they always compete,” Sales said. “We knew when we stepped on the field we just needed to get a result and we got that.”
The Stars twice battled back from one-goal deficits through Allison, who burned West Chester on a blistering counter attack goal in the 37th minute and rocketed a shot past Sales on a free kick in the 48th minute. The goals were his 10th and 11th of the season and brought his career NPSL haul to 27 in 28 matches.
“He’s unbelievable, what else can you say about the guy?” Stars head coach Fatoma Turay said of Allison.
Allison nearly pulled off what would have been a miraculous winner when Sales got mixed up on a long ball far off his line and it took a high bounce that Allison was able to connect with on an overhead kick. The ball trickled just wide of the goal.
“It took a weird bounce and I got caught in between,” Sales said. “I definitely held my breath there for a minute.”
West Chester opened the scoring early in the first half as they did in the team’s first meeting at the South Philadelphia Super Site back in June.
Midfielder Andreas Bartosinski connected with Chas Wilson for his seventh goal of the season in the 12th minute. The visitors regained the lead in the 41st minute when Villanova midfielder David Bettenhausen sent a long ball in from near midfield that bounced off a Stars defender and rolled into the net.
With the score tied, the teams were more or less even, trading attacks and chances in a back-and-forth affair that grew chippier as more time ticked off the clock. The head referee had to intervene a few times in altercations between players, including one in the 85th minute where he showed red to Deron Joe.
West Chester were unable to capitalize the man advantage for the final five minutes of regulation and two 15-minute overtimes and as they tired Stars winger Alvin Dahn, a sophomore at Saint Joe’s, became even harder to stop with his electrifying runs down the right flank.
In the end, the stalemate gave way to the cruelty of penalty kicks to decide a derby that ended 1-1-1 for the year in NPSL play with four goals to each side.
“I’m proud of them, you know playing one down for what about 35, 40 minutes we actually played well,” Turay said. “We just have to keep our heads up and focus on NESL (Northeast Soccer League).”
The win for West Chester was the first in an NPSL playoff match after losing in the first round in their first season last year and puts the team even closer to qualifying for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Early next month, they’ll also battle for the National Amateur Cup with a semifinal match in Milwaukee.
“It’s exciting,” head coach Blaise Santangelo said of Wednesday night’s victory. “We’re looking forward to going to Motown again.”
The playoff appearance was a first for Junior Lone Star.
“When I took this job I had high expectations,” said Turay, who completed his first season as the head coach of the NPSL squad. “I want to get this team not just to the playoffs, but all the way to the championship.”