Graphic by Harrison Huntley | @hhuntley17
For the first time since 2002, Vereinigung Erzgebirge is heading to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup after knocking off their local rivals West Chester United with a 2-1 win in the third and final round of the Open Division Local qualifying tournament on Sunday afternoon.
Derek Antonini had a goal in the first half and set up Alec Neumann’s game-winner in the second half to secure the victory and achieve a goal head coach Rob Oldfield has been aiming for ever since he led the club to their last Open Cup appearance 17 years ago.
“That was a much younger me, I was a 26-year-old coach in that one,” Oldfield said after the win at William Tennant High School. “That’s been the goal, getting the guys back there so they can experience what we did before.”
Though they were the home team, VE had a longer trip than normal to their clubhouse afterwards to celebrate. Heavy rains Sunday morning forced a late move of the game to the turf field at William Tennant but it didn’t disrupt VE’s game plan at all.
They were poised and organized in the back and dangerous going forward and on set pieces. They opened the scoring in the 36th minute after Adam Bestidas was given enough space on the left flank to send a long ball into the box that found the head of Antonini. The 6-foot-6 target forward, who was a handful all day, nearly doubled the lead before halftime when he pounced on a rebound in front of goal but West Chester keeper Evan Bleiler was able to parry the attempt away.
The second goal came on a tight angle shot from Antonini in the box in the 80th minute that resulted in an easy tap-in for Neumann at the far post.
“They were just taking the game to us, they got a good first goal and a good second goal,” West Chester head coach Blaise Santangelo said. “They played better than us today. They deserved it. I’m happy for my friend Rob, it was their game.”
Players from Vereinigung Erzgebirge and West Chester United battle for the ball in a 2020 US Open Cup qualifier. Photo: Matt Ralph | Brotherly Game
After scoring nine goals in their first two qualifiers – a 5-0 win over Danubia SC and a 4-2 win over Landsdowne Bhoys – the West Chester attack struggled to generate clear chances in front of goal. A couple tweaks to the lineup, moving Jordan Poarch from the back line to the wing and pushing center back Andrew Gonzalez up to forward and switching to three in the back eventually led to the breakthrough when Gonzalez volleyed a Matt Greer pass past a diving Tim Washam. But by then it was too late and the VE defense just too stingy to find an equalizer. West Chester also played short-handed in the closing minutes after Andreas Bartosinski was sent off for a late challenge on Fraser Colmer in front of the fourth official.
“I thought it was just really good communication, really good work from our midfield, the guys did a really good job tracking back and staying with their runners and we had a couple lucky bounces,” said defender Mike Reese, who has been with the team since 2012. “It feels good to get a win in a meaningful game.”
Qualifying for the Open Cup, something the Warminster, Pa.-based sports club dating back to the 1930s has done only once in the Modern Era (1995-present). Prior to that, they attempted to qualify several times. According to TheCup.us records, their best finish prior to the Modern Era was a Round of 16 run in 1984. Qualifying was a goal Oldfield had set for the club and reminded the group of during a halftime talk. They’ll have to wait for the spring to compete in the “Open Cup proper” but they retreated from the cold to their bar back at the club with a big mission accomplished on Sunday.
“We play in a lot of different cups but you know this one’s the most special,” Antonini said.
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