West Chester United showed why they are considered one of the top amateur teams in the country with a 1-0 win over Bethlehem Steel FC in a preseason friendly Wednesday night.
Finalists for the 2018 National Amateur Cup, West Chester United’s United Soccer League of Pennsylvania squad is filled with former D1 college players who had several years on most of the academy-heavy squad Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke put out.
“It was 45 minutes for a couple of our pros and it was a really good experience for our academy guys, for 17, 18, 19-year-olds to have to play against men in these conditions is fantastic,” Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke said after the match. “I love the exercise; it tells me a lot about individuals, who keeps pushing when things are difficult in the game when we’re not on top of the game because we don’t have our strongest group out there.”
Burke had rostered pros James Chambers, Zach Zandi, Faris and Ben Ofeimu in the game to start but mostly used the match to get minutes for a pool of academy players and young international trialists Walter Cortes, Jamoi Topey and Chavany Willis. He also brought on a couple unnamed guest players in the second half who are with the team to make up numbers ahead of their Saturday friendly against Villanova (NCAA rules prohibit college-bound academy players from playing against college teams).
Steel FC’s press smothered West Chester United and had the ball on the home team’s side of the field for stretches in the first half but breaking down the final line of defense anchored by former Villanova defender Enda O’Neill and fellow center back Peter Nolan proved a challenge. The more experienced West Chester United was content to sit in and hit on the counter.
This produced some pressure situations for the Steel back line and some moments for goalkeeper Kris Shakes to step up with a couple saves, including a quick reaction stop off a corner kick that kept the game scoreless going into the break.
West Chester United started to gain more control of the ball in the second half and after taking a lead on a penalty kick from Mike Gonzalez in the 59th minute continued to pepper goalkeeper Tomas Romero with shots. Romero made a number of key saves to keep the deficit to one while on the other end service was limited to forwards Saed Diaz and Shanyder Borgelin.
“We created a lot of opportunities, I think we had 10-11 shots, their goalies made some great saves,” West Chester United head coach Blaise Santangelo said. “They play at such a high pace, it was really good for us because we don’t normally see that and they go vertical quick but I think we played really well, our back line was phenomenal.”
Santangelo was appreciative of the opportunity to play not only against the Steel but against Zach Zandi, who spent time with the team after his senior season ended at Villanova in the fall and who played in the club’s youth system (Penn Fusion Academy) up until joining the Philadelphia Union Academy as a junior in high school. Zandi’s father was also instrumental in founding the club’s men’s program 11 years ago.
“That was special,” Santangelo said.
Zandi’s former college teammates, O’Neill and Andreas Bartosinski, both played in the game for West Chester United, which returns to league play in early March and has a huge road trip to Massachusetts on the calendar for April 6. A win in that game against Safira FC will put them in the field for the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Steel FC, which fell to 2-2-0 in preseason, faces Villanova on Saturday in their next match.
Bethlehem Steel FC Lineup
Kris Shakes* (Tomas Romero* 46’) – Walter Cortes (Nathan Harriel* 42’), Trialist (Michael Pellegrino* 33’), Ben Ofeimu (JD Wagner* 46’), Tonny Temple* (Trialist 62’) – Cole Turner*, James Chambers (Trialist 62’), Zach Zandi (Trialist 46’), Nick Blacklock* -- Faris (Saed Diaz 46’), Shanyder Borgelin* * Philadelphia Union Academy
West Chester United Lineup
Johnny Paletar (Brian Ehrlich), Jordan Poarch (Alex Martyn), Enda O’Neill, Peter Nolan, Sam Bollinger, Mike Gonzalez (Colin Furlong), Andreas Bartosinski, Chad Poarch (A.J. Bishop), Ryan Fincher (Matt Robinson), Troy Amspacher (Max Adarkwah), Chas Wilson (Max Adarkwah)