By the time West Chester United’s players got back to their bus for the trip home from Baltimore last week, they were already done celebrating their first round U.S. Open Cup penalty shootout victory over FC Baltimore Christos.
They had a trip to Birmingham, Alabama to plan, after all. As the bus left Johns Hopkins University, the talk quickly shifted from the game they had just won on penalties to talk about flights and other arrangements.
BBVA Compass Field, where West Chester United will play their second round game on Wednesday night against USL Championship side Birmingham Legion, is 878 miles from their home field, which is no small feat for a team of adult amateurs with day jobs.
“Even getting on a plane to go play somewhere far away, it’s been nothing but fun and who better to do it with all these guys,” forward Troy Amspacher said after they booked the spot in the second round. “We just want to ride this out as far as it will take us.”
Nicknamed the road warriors of the tournament since this will be their sixth straight game away from home dating back to their four games of local qualifying, the group from West Chester have embraced their moniker after traveling 1,400 miles from their home field to a pair of games locally and games in Queens and Boston.
“It should be a big night for them since it’s their first Open Cup game,” head coach Blaise Santangelo said of Wednesday night’s game. “In the end if we go down there and are competitive that’s a win for us. If we go down there and we can steal a result that would be unbelievably terrific.”
The team has been part of a video series produced by filmmaker Ashwin Chaudhary, a Penncrest High School grad, for U.S. Soccer. The video chronicling their win in local qualifying in Boston was shown before the broadcast of the games on ESPN+ on Wednesday and a longer cut was shown to the players on the bus ride to Baltimore. It also shows life off the field for the team and its coaches, juggling day jobs and other commitments.
“We wanna be the road warrior underdogs,” Santangelo said.
Part of their preparation for the oldest competition in U.S. soccer — first to qualify and now to play the part of giant killer — has included playing against the Philadelphia Union U19 team in friendlies and a preseason friendly against the Bethlehem Steel FC, which beat the Legion in their first-ever game 2-0 in March. Several of the West Chester United regulars have also joined the Steel in friendlies against area college teams.
The experience has given the group, which has won three straight United Soccer League of Pennsylvania league titles, plenty of confidence even facing off against a professional side with several former MLS players like former Philadelphia Union forward Chandler Hoffman.
“We’re not training every single day all day but that doesn’t take away from the talent that we have,” Amspacher said. “We’re excited for the challenge.”
The reward for a win on Wednesday will be another road trip to face the winner of the Louisville City and Reading United match.
Wednesday’s game will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. eastern time on ESPN+*
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