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2018 was a year of ‘what ifs’ for Philly area soccer

The Philadelphia Union, Reading United, West Chester United, Lancaster Inferno and West Chester University all lost finals in 2018

Sami Phelps reacts to West Chester University’s loss in the 2018 Division II final in Pittsburgh
Photo by Matt Ralph

One of the worst things about attending a final in person is the part where the team that loses has to stay on the field to collect their runner-up medals as the other team celebrates.

Philadelphia Union fans will probably never be able to get the images of the 2014 and 2015 U.S. Open Cup finals won in Chester by the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City, but 2018 was a particularly brutal year in terms of teams from our area coming ever so close to reaching the pinnacle.

The first final defeat came in late July when Lancaster Inferno conceded deep into extra time in the United Women’s Soccer league final in Michigan. Julie Gavorski’s goal came in the 118th minute to give the Houston Aces the dramatic win at Grandville High School on July 22.

A couple weeks later on August 3, 2018, both Reading United and West Chester United lost national finals. Reading fell 4-2 in an excruciating injury-plagued extra time battle with Calgary Foothills in the PDL (now USL League Two) final at Wilson High School while West Chester United was in Wisconsin being done in by a pair of first half set pieces in a 2-0 loss to Bavarians SC in the National Amateur Cup.

There’s no need to revisit too much of the detail from the Philadelphia Union’s third Open Cup final defeat in Houston on September 26. Where the first two Open Cup finals in Chester were full of what-if scenarios — what if Nogueira had scored, what if Chaco was a wee bit faster, what if Edu hadn’t missed that penalty, etc. — the final in Houston felt over well before Auston Trusty’s own goal sealed victory for the home team.

Arguably the worst of the final losses in 2018 was the one that happened on December 1 at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh.

West Chester University, the plucky underdog of mostly Philly guys in an NCAA division ruled by overseas imports, was under 13 minutes away from lifting a trophy in the Division II men’s final. A cross into the box in the 78th minute and a free kick goal six minutes later made for a depressing end to what felt like a much-needed exclamation point on a year of almosts.

As much of a bummer as it is to see our local teams have to endure another team celebrating a trophy, it’s a testament to the strength of soccer in greater Philadelphia that five teams would make national finals in a calendar year. While the what ifs are inevitable, rather that than never had a chance.