By Michael Battista/NPSL.com
West Chester United SC left little doubt as it advanced to the East Region Final, 4-0, over Annapolis Blues FC on Friday afternoon. The team is set to play in its first regional title match after winning its first conference title this season.
Against the second seed Annapolis, third seed West Chester struck quickly within the first 180 seconds of the match. After the Blues failed to clear a corner kick, West Chester jumped on the throw-in. Ridge Robinson lifted his left leg to poke the ball over a defender, finding Dominick Bachstein. Goalkeeper Griffin Hemmendinger slid to stop the shot, but the Drexel University player found the back of the net to make it 1-0.
Robinson’s day wasn’t over. In the 12th minute, West Chester got another corner kick where the initial shot attempt hit off the crossbar. The rebound fell towards Robinson who scissor kicked the shot into the net to double his team’s lead.
WCUSC head coach Blaise Santangelo explained after the game that his team tried to take advantage of his opponent’s formation, gaining multiple set pieces and pushing the ball into the opposing end.
“(Annapolis) were playing a very high line, so we thought we could get balls into the channels and get behind them, and we were going to do that until they took that away from us,” Santangelo said. “Our guys are really fit so defensively, you know. I think we scored balls in transitional pieces off our defensive pressure, so that’s kind of what we’re looking to do.”
The crowd at Montclair was healthy despite the early weekday start. A large contingent of the Bay Bhoys, the supporters group for Annapolis, made the trip to cheer the team on from the southern bleachers. Head coach Colin Herriot said that not only was he and the team honored, but they weren’t surprised.
“They’ve supported us all year since the first game,” Herriot said postgame. “But to see them turn it in the numbers again today, it’s just phenomenal. There’s a real bond between the team and the fans, and the fans and the team, and I think that’s pretty special as well. What we’ve achieved on the field is great, but what we’ve been able to achieve off the field in terms of that community connection, that’s really important as well.”
The Blues attempted to counter, getting their first shot of the game in the 17th minute. A long pass saw a West Chester player fail to clear it, setting up Toshi Davis to shoot from distance. Michael Sheridan dove to his right to keep the ball out.
The rest of the half belonged to United who kept most of the ball possession in the Annapolis end. Just before halftime the team added a third goal when Bachstein fed Ken Roby on the right side who shot into the opposite netting to make it 3-0 in the 44th minute.
The second half played out at a slower pace. West Chester’s total number of shots decreased while Annapolis’ time with the ball picked up. A few formation changes and early substitutes like Brian Lenzer allowed the Blues to challenge more in the midfield.
“I think our group got a little bit more confident,” Herriot explained. “They got more comfortable in the surroundings. We grew into the game.”
With that confidence did come a few chances. Sheridan had to make a handful of saves in the final 45 minutes to hold onto the clean sheet. Playing at Montclair State, the home of New York Red Bulls II, it was hard not to think of West Chester alumni and current MLS goalkeeper AJ Marcucci.
“(Mike Sheridan is) a pro with his feet,” Santangelo said. “He is very similar to AJ Marcucci. And as a matter of fact, we played him in the field in this match for the last, you know, 22 minutes as a field player because we knew that he could handle it.”
Sheridan went on to assist on the game’s final goal in second half stoppage time. The soon-to-be Villanova Wildcat took a free kick from the right side of the field in Blues territory. He passed the ball off, quickly got it back, and ran a route before crossing into the box. Vincent Petrera tapped in West Chester’s fourth and final goal in the second minute of stoppage time.
Despite the loss, Herriot still realizes what his team achieved this season. A new group, made up of mostly college age players, joined a conference and won it. It makes the idea of year two all the more exciting.
“Really proud of the team,” Herriot said. “It’s a young group, so we’re always developing and learning. So for us to have the year that we’ve had, again, extremely proud of the staff, the players, front office, the ownership group.”
West Chester will play host FC Motown in Saturday’s East Region Final. It will be a rematch of last year’s Keystone Conference Final which Motown won via penalty kick shootout on route to the NPSL National Championship.
Photo Credit: Michael Battista/NPSL.com