Nearly three years after an overflow crowd witnessed West Chester United host the Harrisburg City Islanders in a second round match in the U.S. Open Cup the local amateur club is one win away from a return to one of the oldest soccer competitions in the world.
The local amateur team, which had won a national championship the summer before, ended up on the wrong side of a 2-0 score that May night after advancing past Fredericksburg FC on the road on penalties in the first round. But it’s a night none of the players or the people involved with the club have forgotten.
“When you’re playing it you don’t realize how unique the opportunity is, but here I am three years later and our team has been good all three years and we haven’t gotten back,” said Chas Wilson, a forward who was in his first year with the team back then. “It’s something you’ll always remember so you want to take advantage.”
Wilson is one of the last remaining links between the team that won the Werner Fricker Cup in 2015 and then qualified for the U.S. Open Cup in 2016 with wins over Philadelphia Lone Star (known as Junior Lone Star then) and Salone FC in local qualifying. He had recently graduated from Temple University when they won the national title and is now one of the veteran leaders on the squad.
“This team is honestly a blessing,” said Wilson, who is a social studies teacher at Henderson High School in West Chester and coaches at FC Delco. “When I played my last college game I was pretty upset and I thought that was basically it but to have someone like (head coach Blaise Santangelo) create a program where I guess it’s like a second chance for all of us it’s just been incredible.”
Wilson and several other core players like Mike Gonzalez, Troy Amspacher, Kyle Martyn, Matt Greer and Andreas Bartosinski have been part of the team’s many competitions over the past year both in the United Soccer League of Pennsylvania, the National Premier Soccer League in the summer and the various cup competitions on the schedule. They missed out on two other chances to qualify for the Open Cup losing in the National Amateur Cup final in August in Wisconsin and missed the cut-off for teams qualifying through the NPSL.
Saturday night in Somerville, Mass. they’ll get their third and final shot at qualifying against Safira FC in the fourth round of local qualifying in what will be a rematch of the regional final for last year’s National Amateur Cup. West Chester outlasted the UPSL club in the Region 1 final despite going down a man in the 9th minute.
The Predators, as they are known, beat league rivals Vereinigung Erzgebirge and Ukrainian Nationals in the first two rounds of local U.S. Open Cup qualifying and then traveled to Queens to play New York Pancyprian-Freedoms. They won that game 3-0 and initially thought that would be good enough to qualify but that was before U.S. Soccer announced there would be one final round of qualifying.
“We lost in a national final and the first thing on their mind was still ‘we have to get to the U.S. Open Cup,’” Santangelo said. “We’re here to play in national tournaments and we get there through training, through league play, through cup play and through making it into competitions like the Open Cup. It’s part of the culture to be one of the best amateur teams in the country.”
A win on Saturday could lead to a match in “the U.S. Open Cup proper” with local teams Reading United or Philadelphia Lone Star. The Philadelphia Union, which lost in the 2018 final, enter the competition in the fourth round with the other MLS teams.
“I told the guys when we were in it in 2016 that the one really cool thing after you’re in the tournament is USSF sends a map out of the continental United States and it has the badges of all the teams in the country. To see your badge on the map with MLS and other pro teams is when it really hits home that this is really privileged ground.”