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Two professional teams come to town this week to face local amateur squads in U.S. Open Cup



Welcome to one of the biggest weeks of amateur soccer in Philadelphia in quite some time.

Two professional sides will be welcomed to town this week as Maryland Bobcats head to YSC Sports to face West Chester United on Tuesday night and Vereinigung Erzgebirge hosts the Charlotte Independence at Cairn University on Thursday night in the first round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

It will be a rare treat to have two amateur vs pro cup games in the same week in the region.

While West Chester United once hosted Harrisburg City Islanders in a U.S. Open Cup match eight years ago and last year hosted the Ocean City Nor’easters at YSC Sports, the format this year ensuring amateur teams all drew pro sides in the first round has created a massive opportunity for local soccer on a national stage.

“It’s like a throwback to the days when amateur soccer ruled, when there weren’t any pro leagues,” Blaise Santangelo, head coach of West Chester United, said. “I’m as happy for VE as I am for us. For both teams that play in the USL PA – even though we did our qualifying through the national track – I think it’s wonderful that we both have roots in that league that’s a strong league and has been around forever.”

The USLPA dates back to 1959. VE as a club is much older – it was founded in 1931 – but Thursday will mark just the second time competing in a competition that dates back to 1914. The team qualified for the 2020 competition but after two postponements in 2020 and 2021 never got a chance to appear in the Open Cup “proper.”

“For the guys who had qualified it was terribly disappointing and for a while there we weren’t sure what was going to happen this year,” said Rob Oldfield, VE’s head coach. “We’re happy that it’s going off even if it’s not exactly the same. This game is a big reward for all the hard work we did and we’re going to treat it like the bonus game that it is, create a big event for our club, get all of our youth players out there to support us and our only regret is we just can’t have it at home.”

Oldfield said the club has cleared the schedule of all other activities and training and hopes to get their out-of-town guests over to the clubhouse either before or after Thursday’s match. Sharing the club’s history and traditions with opponents is a big part of what they do in Warminster – win or lose.

“There’s a lot of people that have picked up the story, and it’s positive and it’s telling the story of you know a soccer club in Bucks County that’s unlike most of the soccer clubs in the country because we own our own land and have that European model and we play our games on site and we have an adult and a youth program,” Oldfield said. “And the fact that you got a handful these guys that have been playing at the club since they were six years old makes it just that more special.”

Fierce rivals on the field but friends off of it, Oldfield said he was relieved both that they didn’t have to play West Chester in the first round and that their games aren’t on the same night.

“We’re hugely excited that we’re not playing each other and that we get a different experience,” Oldfield said.

VE qualified by beating West Chester United in local qualifying back in 2019. This year they qualified by beating Philadelphia Heritage, United German Hungarians and New Jersey Alliance. The last two matches in qualifying they won on penalties. West Chester, meanwhile, qualified by making it to the national semifinal for the National Premier Soccer League.

West Chester’s national profile has continued to rise in recent years with success in national competitions and sending players to the professional ranks. They won the Hank Steinbrecher Cup last summer in Arizona, won the Werner Fricker Cup in Tennessee the year before and was a win away from hosting the NPSL final last summer. They last played a pro side in the Open Cup when they traveled to Alabama to take on Birmingham Legion in 2016.

“It usually helps us get through the winter with a big event to look forward to,” Santangelo said of the Open Cup. “All the top players want to play in it and it keeps them around training in the winter.”

Santangelo and Oldfield said they’re disappointed to see MLS devalue the competition as they have. After announcing they would only field reserve squads in this year’s edition and U.S. Soccer pushing back on that decision they settled on a compromise where just 8 MLS sides and 11 Next Pro sides will compete this year. The Philadelphia Union, which have made it to three finals, are not one of those teams.

“It could be 110 years of badminton, 110 years is 110 years and if you’re involved in something as much as we are you have to have respect for it,” Santangelo said. “I think it’s been going down the line over the last 10 years where you know some of the MLS squads aren’t playing their best players in certain, some of the times are obscure and they aren’t really promoting it, but I believe in something that’s bigger than the game and tradition is huge.”

Santangelo played in the competition as a player and has built a program in part around the opportunities presented to players getting to play in it but even as new leagues and platforms have developed the history of it locally – Bethlehem Steel and Philadelphia Ukrainians have 9 titles between them – adds another element.

“You feel connected to history and time playing in this tournament,” Santangelo said. “We talk about a lot of our players working day jobs and playing at night and that’s what the root to this is all about.”

Matthew Ralph is the managing editor of Philadelphia Soccer Now / Brotherly Game. He's covered soccer at all levels for many years in the Philadelphia region and has also written for, NPSL, PrepSoccer and other publications. He lives with his wife and two young children in Broomall, Pa., but grew up in South Jersey and is originally from Kansas.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

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