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West Chester United keep Open Cup road show going after advancing on PKs at FC Baltimore Christos

Birmingam, Alabama and a date with USL Championship newcomers Birmingham Legion await the local amateurs

Goalkeeper Pierre Gardan had never been in a shootout and Sami Phelps had never converted a penalty but both came up when West Chester United needed them most to send the local amateurs through to the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

“At practice I wasn’t saving as many as I would have liked to but I knew if it went to PKs I was going to save at least one,” said Gardan, a former VCU goalkeeper from France who joined West Chester United about six weeks ago. “I remember thinking there’s no way you go through six PKs without saving any of them. I knew it was going to happen.”

West Chester United misfired twice on kicks from the spot, but so did FC Baltimore Christos, leaving the decisive kick to Phelps, a West Chester University defender. After he converted his spot kick, the final attempt from Baltimore sailed high and the “road warriors” from West Chester, Pa. celebrated another victory on someone else’s turf.

The win was the fifth straight in the Open Cup for West Chester counting the four rounds of qualifying that got them back in the competition for the first time since 2016 and the second time in club history. The team in 2016 advanced on penalties in a first round match at FC Fredericksburg.

“I didn’t run onto the field and jump on the pile like last time,” head coach Blaise Santangelo said of the celebration. “I looked around and gave my coaches a hug. I’ve been there once so I wanted to just watch the players enjoy it.”

West Chester struck early when Chad Poarch found himself in space down the right flank and played a short pass to Andreas Bartosinski, who hit a first time curler to Troy Amspacher near the far post. Amspacher rose to the ball and headed it inside the opposite post to give the visitors the early lead.

“It was honestly incredible,” Amspacher said of netting a goal in his first U.S. Open Cup appearance. “It started with the beginning of the night being here with the best teammates in the world. The weather was perfect, I had some friends here. Scoring on top of that just made it even more special.”

Moments later West Chester had a penalty shout when Poarch was played into the box and Davey Mason appeared to have gotten his body before getting the ball but it was ruled a corner kick. West Chester continued to put the pressure on, but Baltimore weathered the early storm and regrouped at halftime. Coming out in the second half, they were the aggressor and were playing well through Messiah College grad and former Charlotte Independence midfielder Jacob Bender, who was a handful all night with his class on the ball and work rate.

The equalizer came on a shot from distance by Jake Dengler that hit West Chester center back Peter Nolan on the way toward goal, leaving Gardan flat footed. With the score tied, both teams traded spells of possession looking for the winner. Baltimore had one sequence where they had several corners and were knocking on the door but defenders Enda O’Neill and Phelps, who were stationed on each post, each cleared the ball from danger.

Moving into the overtime periods, chances fell to each side, but it was a ball from Bender that he dropped into the box that could have put them ahead with only stoppage time remaining, but the touch was heavy and Gardan was able to smother it and get West Chester to penalties.

Though it was the first Open Cup game for the NPSL team, FC Baltimore Christos head coach Larry Sancomb had the task of addressing his team after a PK loss for the second straight year after the Christos FC side he coached fell on PKs at Reading United last season. He and Santangelo shook hands at midfield prior to the shootout.

“Hats off to them; I hope they make a great run,” Sancomb said.

West Chester will kick off against Birmingham Legion on May 15 at 8 p.m. eastern time at BBVA Compass Field in Birmingham. It will be the Legion’s first U.S. Open Cup match and mark the second time West Chester United plays against a pro team. They were bounced in the second round in 2016 against the Harrisburg City Islanders.