By Michael Lewis/NPSL.com
Given how many times these two rivals have battled in recent years, the pre-game expectations between West Chester United SC and FC Motown lived up to its hype and then some in the NPSL Eastern Region Final on Saturday night.
The confrontation produced some memorable goalkeeper saves, plenty of physical play, many yellow cards, two red cards, and several beautiful goals that belonged on a highlight video.
West Chester United was at the top of its game, overcoming an early deficit as it avenged a couple of past defeats to FC Motown with a 4-1 victory over the defending league champions at MSU Soccer Park at Montclair State University.
“We’ve had some tough times on this field and some good times also, but tonight was one of those really, really good times,” West Chester head coach Blaise Santangelo said. “Our guys have been training hard, all summer long training for five nights a week. Undefeated at 10-0-3, zero losses. It’s really huge. These guys are very difficult to play. We respect them because they’re like one of our top competitors in all of our competitions.”
The game was a rematch of last year’s Keystone Conference Final, in which Motown won on a penalty kick shootout.
“To beat them, it’s even that much sweeter. And on this field after what happened in U.S. Open Cup -[last year] it’s just we have such a heartbreaking loss here,” Santangelo said. “So, it’s very, very rewarding.”
This week, it was a difficult team to beat, putting four on the board in both its matches. It defeated the Annapolis Blues FC, 4-0, in the East Region Semifinals on Friday night.
On Saturday, the visitors spread the wealth as four players scored goals – August Axtman, John Ricks, Owen Slack, and Kenneth Roby, and the first three were works of art.
The game got off to a rousing start with two memorable plays that did not produce goals in the second minute.
First, West Chester came close to scoring as Dominick Bachstein fed Ridge Robinson with a pinpoint pass, and Robinson fired a shot that goalkeeper David Greczek knocked away.
Seconds later, Motown’s Christopher Bermudez put the ball into the back of the net, only to have the goal nullified due to offside.
FC Motown scored a goal that counted, in the eighth minute, Rodrigo Rocca scored off a header while going away from the net past goalkeeper Michael Sheridana, off Christopher Lema’s corner kick.
Going down 1-0 away did not phase West Chester.
“It’s a really resilient group that we have,” Ricks said. “I think when that first goal went in, it was actually my man who scored so I came back with the guys we knew what we had to do. We kept our heads. That was the most important part. I think a lot of people were talking to the refs. I think the game got a little out of hand, but our guys kept their composure and kept their heads in the game, and we kept pushing.”
Indeed, they did.
Axtman equalized with a nifty free kick from just outside the left flank of the penalty area as he lofted a shot that floated into the upper right corner in the 31st minute.
“We could have had one early but like I told the guys, it was going to be a story,” Santangelo said. “There’s going to be the first half story, then it’s going to be the second half story. There’s going to be drama from both sides because that’s how it is when we get together. But we’re a never say die team and we get scoring from all over the field. We just knew that if we can keep pressing them, our fitness maybe would eventually get through.”
Eight minutes later, the Pennsylvania side grabbed the lead for good as Ricks cut inside on the right wing before powering a shot from outside the box.
“It was a move that I do consistently. I cut inside,” he said. “I got a little lucky. It rebounded off some guy’s legs and it popped out right to my left foot. I just struck it. I knew I was aiming for the far post. I didn’t even look up. Goalie got a hand to it, but it just wasn’t enough. It felt great, especially to go up to 2-1. I think the game came back into our hands. We got a lot of momentum going.”
“We didn’t let our heads drop for a second,” goalkeeper Michael Sheridan added. “I can’t we knew there was so much time it’s such an unpredictable game. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You got to keep playing.”
Three minutes into the second half, Slack drilled a shot from just outside the right side of the penalty area for an insurance tally.
West Chester wasn’t finished. Motown’s Samuel Nii Armah Ashitey incurred his second yellow card in the 58th minute and was banished with a red card as the hosts played man down the rest of the game.
The visiting side took advantage of the man-advantage as Roby put in the rebound of his own shot in the 80th minute.
Sheridan has enjoyed the view from the back.
“When we get into the final third, I kind of go lights out,” he said. “I just watch, and I hope and I get excited. I know what these guys are capable of. I know something’s going to happen and when it does, I get excited and watch. I sit back and let them do their thing.”
Sheridan’s thing is keeping the ball out of the net. He made a key save early on to keep the match scoreless and produced two late ones, not allowing Motown any chance of getting back into the contest.
“He was an absolute animal today, ” Rick said. “In the air we needed him. They had a lot of height that a lot of guys who could win the ball in the air. He was just unbelievable, wasn’t scared to go up. That’s when we needed him most.”
Photo Credit: Michael Lewis/NPSL.com