West Chester United was two years away from being founded as a club when a team from Philadelphia last won the National Amateur Cup, and no one on their current roster was even alive yet, but that drought could come to an end this weekend in Milwaukee.
“It’s been 44 years since this trophy has been brought home to Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia area,” head coach of the WCUSC Predators team Blaise Santangelo said. “This is something we are responsible for and responsible to take it to our local soccer community.”
Philadelphia Inter hoisted the trophy for the second straight year in 1974. The Philadelphia German Hungarians won it in 1965 and the Philadelphia German Americans won it back-to-back years in 1933-34, a decade after the competition began.
Though it’s the first time the local amateur squad has advanced to the final — beating amateur powerhouses like FC Motown and Christos FC along the way — it’s not the first time the team has played for a national title. They won the Werner Fricker Cup back in 2015.
As they did for the final of that competition three years ago, West Chester will be sporting all of the logos of their United Soccer League of Pennsylvania rivals on their jerseys.
“We always are very proud of the league and that’s why we wear all the badges on our shirt,” Santangelo said. “We are who we are because of those other teams and the league. This isn’t just for us, it’s for the entire Philly soccer community.”
A lot of soccer has been played since West Chester began the run they are on.
West Chester went unbeaten with a 20-0 record to win the league this season, advanced to the Keystone Conference final after posting a 7-3-0 regular season record where they lost on penalties to FC Motown in the National Premier Soccer League and is currently 3-1-2 in the first season of the newly formed Northeast Elite Soccer League.
To get to the final weekend of the Amateur Cup, the Predators defeated Christos FC, FC Motown and Safira FC to capture the Region 1 championship.
“We’ve known about this for a while (they won Region 1 on June 16) so we’re excited we’re finally here,” captain Mike Gonzalez said in a phone interview from the team’s hotel in Wisconsin on Thursday.
Gonzalez, a Penn State grad who played for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy with FC Delco (now Continental FC) prior to college, joined the team right after their 2015 Werner Fricker championship.
“This has been the end goal all along, to win another national championship,” he said.
That the Amateur Cup final will be played the same night that Reading United will be hosting the Premier Development League final in Pennsylvania adds another element to the story for local soccer fans.
Should both teams win this weekend, they will both qualify for the Hank Steinbrecher Cup, an annual competition that pits the winners of the PDL, NPSL, National Amateur Cup and the defending champion of the competition. West Chester’s conference rival FC Motown is hosting the NPSL final at Drew University on Saturday.
Kildare’s in West Chester will be hosting a viewing party tonight for the semifinal, which kicks off at 6 p.m. eastern time. Their opponent, Florida club Kickers FC, returns to the final weekend after falling short last year and has won it three times, in 2008, 1997 and 1990.
West Chester’s roster will feature a mix of players from the different competitions with an older core of players like Gonzalez, Chas Wilson, Peter Nolan, James Graf mixed with younger college players like Notre Dame duo Aiden McFadden and Senan Farrelly, Lafayette defender Christian Williams and Lehigh midfielder Blaise Melinak.
Jake Lister rejoined the team from Colorado and Villanova grad Lucas Hodges has rejoined the group from California after spending the spring with the team in the USL of Pa. Philadelphia Union Academy grad Matt Greer is also with the team, choosing to finish the competition with the group after coming off the bench for Reading United in their semifinal game last Saturday. Current Villanova midfielder Dave Bettenhausen and recent Nova grad Andreas Bartosinski are also on the squad as well as Penn defender and YSC Academy grad RC Williams.
“It’s a really good mix of players,” Santangelo said. “Collectively these players have had at least 20 games together, some have played as many as 35 games together.”