MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A seven-year journey to add a second star to their badge was completed by West Chester United Saturday evening with a convincing 3-1 win over FC Porto of Kansas in the Werner Fricker Cup final.
Conor Bradley scored off a deflected Jimmy McLaughlin shot in the 20th minute and Derek Ramirez and Clay Moyer added goals in the second half to hold off a tough FC Porto of Kansas side and unleash an on-field and after-party celebration that lasted long into the night on Broadway in nearby Nashville.
The win followed a 6-0 victory over hosts Nashville United on Friday night at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex in the Nashville suburb and a multi-faceted campaign that has taken the local amateur club on countless road trips for top level amateur soccer in the U.S.
“You win one of these and you think you can win every year,” head coach Blaise Santangelo said. “And then seven years later you’re like wow we finally got it done again. It’s been a long grind.”
Relying on a consistent core of players from captain Luca Mellor, fellow Villanova alums Shane Bradley and Conor Bradley to star left back Levi Maruca and midfielders Michael Gonzalez and Spencer Burkhardt, head coach Blaise Santangelo and assistant Roger Tucker traveled to Tennessee with a full arsenal.
That included former Philadelphia Union homegrown Jimmy McLaughlin and other club stalwarts defender Ryan Fincher, goalkeeper Cameron Sanders, hard-nosed forward Jake Gosselin and playmaker Thomas King, who took on a bigger role when Burkhardt went down with an injury early in the semifinal. Derek Ramirez scored two of the bigger goals of the weekend to pad leads in both matches, Clay Moyer had a goal and two assists over the two games off the bench and Sama Tima contributed off the bench while newer additions to the squad George New and Kenny Roy provided key minutes off the bench and Danny Gonzalez rejoined the group to contribute both on and off the field.
“We’ve gotten close several times,” said Mike Gonzalez, the longest-tenured player with the club to play in the final. “It’s nice to get over the hump finally.”
Chas Wilson, who was on the 2015 Werner Fricker championship team and was part of the group this year through to the regional final, was unable to make the trip but was still a big part of the preparation.
“He came to every training leading up to the whole thing,” Santangelo said of his veteran forward, whose first child was born days before the trip. “He made the right decision for himself and his family and I think he knew we were in good hands with the group we had.”
Coming off a 3-0 win in the other semifinal Friday night, FC Porto of Kansas looked dangerous early and Predators goalkeeper Sanders was called on more frequently in the early moments of the game than perhaps all of Friday’s semifinal.
But even as Porto looked poised to score, the Predators attack was able to quickly create chances of their own. The break-through came when Conor Bradley slid in and chipped in a rebound off a shot by McLaughlin in the box.
As it did on Friday, the second goal wouldn’t come until the second half when it was McLaughlin showing his class to collect a cross from King at the top of the 18 and leave it for Ramirez to hammer it home with his left. The celebration from the 50th minute strike was the biggest one of the weekend and perhaps the moment when the trophy they had all coveted started to feel firmly within their grasp.
“All credit goes to Jimmy,” Ramirez said of the goal. “He definitely served it on a platter.”
Gosselin was also involved in the build-up, drawing two defenders who took him out as he passed the ball wide to King. Though Gosselin didn’t find the back of the net after a brace Friday, his hard runs forward and defensive pressing were key to frustrating Porto’s advances.
“Everyone on this team is just a unit,” Ramirez said. “Hard workers that grind and work for each other.”
There was still plenty to do after the Ramirez goal and it was the Guatemala native turning defense into offense that set up what ended up being an important insurance goal. Ramirez tipped a ball away from a Porto player in midfield to Moyer who played the ball to Ramirez and hit the return ball early into the bottom right corner of the net with five minutes to go.
Porto was able to find the goal they had been threatening all night in the 85th minute and despite creating some more nervy moments — Sanders did well to hold onto a ball that skipped in front of goal — the Predators’ conditioning held up. Long nights training back home in Pennsylvania had given them the edge they needed to still press and win balls deep into their second 90 minutes in two days.
After a long celebration on the field and sidelines — with a little bit of a loud sing-along to Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” — the players lined up to receive the the glass Werner Fricker Cup they had gone to Tennessee to get, presented by Region 1 president Tony Falcone.
“It was a huge commitment for everyone to come down here, some guys took off work including myself and it was a commitment financially too,” Lucas Mellor said. “But we came down here to win it and we did it...Now we can say we’re national champions.”