US Open Cup / West Chester United

Things are getting busy for West Chester United

Photos: Courtesy of Blaise Santangelo

In the beginning of February, West Chester United, winners in 2015 of the United States Amateur Soccer Association’s Werner Fricker Open Cup national championship, learned they had gained automatic qualification for the first round of the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

West Chester United head coach Blaise Santangelo, told PSP at the time, “The team is absolutely stoked.”

Understandably so. Previous winners of the Werner Fricker Cup earned automatic qualification to the US Open Cup. But a rule change meant West Chester now had to go through Open Division qualification. At the time of the February announcement, the team was scheduled to host Massachusetts’ Southie FC in the Third Round of Open Division qualification on April 2. But because one of the league’s in the professional division would be fielding fewer teams in the national tournament, U.S. Soccer had placed all of the teams still alive in Open Division qualification had directly into the First Round of the 2016 U.S. Open Cup.

On Wednesday, the First Round pairings of the oldest national knockout tournament in US soccer were announced and Santangelo and his team know who they will be travel to face Virginia’s Fredericksburg FC on Wednesday, May 11, at 5:30pm.

“It’s going to be really great, we’re very excited,” Santangelo, 2015’s USASA Region I Coach of the Year, told PSP. “It’s the next step after winning a national title with the Werner Fricker Open Cup. This is a good progression for us. West Chester/Penn Fusion, the girls’ side, they start a WPSL side this spring. We’ve been told we’ll be getting a NPSL team next year. So, this is kind of a progression of the vision we had of where this is all going seven or eight years ago.”

West Chester United Predators head coach Blaise Santangelo, USASA Region I Coach of the Year.

West Chester United head coach Blaise Santangelo.

West Chester joins Reading United in representing the region in the First Round. While a First Round pairing of the two Eastern Pa. teams may have made things easier logistically, Santangelo said “it was good to kind of get [their first round tie] out of the state,” even if that means he knows little about his team’s opponent.

“We actually don’t know anything; all we know is that they’re a NPSL team,” Santangelo said with a chuckle. “We’re starting to do our research now but we know nothing about them.”

NPSL teams often included a number of college players, which means Fredericksburg might not be coming together until late in the spring, something which Santangelo said might help to give his team an edge. “Us being together year round might give us a slight advantage just knowing and playing with each 12 months out of the year.”

For now, Santangelo is doing what he can to research his team’s opponent. In the meanwhile will increase their pace of training to three times a week while continuing its schedule in United Soccer League of Pennsylvania play.

Also announced on Wednesday were pairing scenarios for the US Open Cup’s Second Round.

“If we get that first round win we have an opportunity to bring a home game back to the club,” Santangelo said. “We would get Harrisburg City Islanders, and I’m sure Harrisburg would bring their supporters. It would be a really great club night — if we can get through first round play — that would be very special for our club. Sort of uncharted waters here, but it’s something that everybody is really excited about.

“It’s going to be a good experience. We’ve been trying for four or five years with this team so, we’re really looking forward to it.”

Soccer Night in Newtown

The May 11 Open Cup tie is part of a busy month for West Chester United. On May 6, the team will travel to Connecticut to participate in Soccer Night in Newtown, a double header of games that will see them play New York Cosmos B, and Reading United play Newtown Pride FC.

West Chester United had defeated Newtown Pride on the way to their Werner Fricker Cup.

“In doing our research getting into the game, we noticed that these guys did a lot for their community in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy,” Santangelo told PSP. “We read that they had done benefit soccer games in their town. So, after we had advanced through them on the way to the national title, I stayed in touch with Matt Svanda; Matt’s one of the leaders on the team, his dad coaches them. We stayed in touch through the year and at one point in the fall he was like, ‘Hey, would you guys be interested in doing some kind of benefit to bring awareness of our cause to Pennsylvania?’ So, I reached out to tell him, ‘Absolutely.’

Soccer Night in NewtownSantangelo contacted Bethlehem Steel FC and Harrisburg City Islanders about participating in the event but “they just couldn’t make it happen this year.” So, he got in touch with Reading United’s Troy Snyder, with whom Santangelo had played on an all-state team in the mid 1980s.

“We were going to try and host a doubleheader with Reading, Cosmos B, Newtown Pride, and ourselves here in our state, but the Cosmos schedule wasn’t going to allow it,” Santangelo explained. “So, Troy and I talked and we said, ‘You know, let’s just put both teams on a bus and let’s go up there and make this happen.’ We decided to do that and on May 6 we’re going to go up there. The town and the whole soccer community of Connecticut is going to be there. We’re currently raising money through donations for the group that we’re supporting, Newtown Youth and Family Services, who provide programs for the youth in the community. So, we’re going to go up there and make something special.”

Santangelo said, “I really think it’s an honor to be able to do something like this. We use soccer to raise funds and awareness for different things all through the year, so this is just another thing we’re doing to help them, represent our club, and do something bigger than the game.

“I told the guys, this is way bigger than soccer, this could be one of the most important things they do in their life with the game.” He added, “I think soccer is a very character building sport and there’s a lot of good we can do with it. I told the guys winning the national title allowed us some exposure, it allowed us things to do in the game, and helping others aside from just being on the pitch as a group is worthwhile.”

The Steinbrecher Cup

The busy May continues for West Chester United over Memorial Day Weekend when the team travels to Chattanooga to participate in the Steinbrecher Cup, the US Soccer National Amateur Championship tournament, on May 27-28. Joining them in the four-team tournament will be the Chicago Fire U-23s, the NPSL’s Chattanooga FC, the current holders of the Steinbrecher Cup, and Quinto Elemento of Kansas, 2015’s USASA Amateur Cup Champion.

“US Soccer came through,” Santangelo told PSP, “They’re paying for all of the flights and hotels. The four teams are going to go there and try to see who is the top amateur team.”

Santangelo and his team have every reason to be excited. But it is clear he and his team, outside of wanting to win championships, also relish the chance to carry the banner of amateur soccer at the senior level against professional opposition, which they will do if they advance to the Second Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

“You know, we do this part time,” Santangelo explained. “I was talking to some of the guys about this last night: Our guys have jobs. Some of them could still be playing soccer at different levels — and maybe not making much money —  but staying in the game as professionals as some people choose to do. But our kids just decided to finish their education and get jobs. They use this as a continuing outlet for their game, you know? We just chose a different way of doing it.

“Hopefully, the soccer community will see that amateur soccer can compete at a decent level,” Santangelo continued. “Not everybody’s going to go pro; a small percentage might have that opportunity. But, these kids that have spent their whole life in soccer, and go play in college, they just chose a different path. They still can play. They commit to training, they commit to being part of a top amateur program in the country, which is what we’re always trying to be. There’s no shame in that. I mean, if you think back to the days of Bethlehem Steel, that’s what those guys did, they worked in a factory and then they went out and won national championships. It’s pretty awesome.”

That it is.


  1. Well good luck…but
    … wouldn’t it be the coolest thing in the world if West Chester United got Victory and some other local entrepreneurs to sponsor them with a business Plan, a Vision for the future of top league play rooted in a club wide Philosophy …
    man wouldn’t it be cool if in ten years West Chester United received 2.5 million from Chelsea because a 14 year old Home Grown player was signed….. nah.
    Course there’s no way a natural rivalry would ever develop between them and say… ah hell forget it.
    MLS is way better.
    Yes…. the franchise model is the way forward when it comes to this particular sport. I agree.
    While we’re at it, lets have Jordan Spieth and the guys play The Masters at a mini golf course.

  2. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Said with affectionate respect, el pachyderm never forgets!

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