Though they might be new to League Two, Philadelphia Lone Star FC and West Chester United SC have long been pillars of the soccer community in Pennsylvania. Much of the clubs’ success is down to the hard work of their leaders: Lone Star President and Executive Director Paul Konneh, and West Chester Director Blaise Santangelo.
The two men met seven years ago, and the proximity between their teams has cultivated a highly-competitive rivalry. But despite many heated battles on the field, the two have developed a strong friendship and mutual respect.
“Honestly, the thing that I admire most about their club -- aside from how competitive all their levels are -- is the way Paul works,” said Santangelo about Lone Star FC. “When you do things like we do and get the most out of every penny that comes through your program, you gain respect for your fellow heads of teams. Paul and I have become friends, and there is a tremendous amount of respect back and forth.”
“I admire their tenacity and their ability to give players more opportunities like we do,” said Konneh of West Chester United. “Like us, they are competing in three adult leagues which says a lot about their commitment to developing players in the state of Pennsylvania.”
Both clubs were founded with the purpose of expanding access to soccer for young players, and now as two of the undisputed top programs in the state, they have raised the bar for other clubs in the area. Given the success of each team in various league and cup competitions, and multiple matchups between them each year (in 2018, they faced each other eight times), a rivalry naturally developed.
“Every time we play them, at every level, it’s a World Cup Final for both their team and our team,” said Santangelo. “Any time we get a result over them is the next best memory of playing them.”
“I think my best memory is defeating them two years ago to win the State Cup Final,” said Konneh. “We might play against each other even more in 2020, but all our games are exciting for the players as well as the fans so we are looking forward to those two League Two games on May 13 and June 9.”
Regardless of which team finishes higher in the Mid Atlantic Division, each club is undoubtedly a vital part of a strong local soccer community. The efforts of Konneh and Santangelo go a long way toward providing opportunity to people from all walks of life in the greater Philadelphia area. Both clubs do important work in preparing their players to succeed in school and the workforce.
“Reading the whole history of our club, you will see how important our club is to our city and our community as a whole,” said Konneh. “Founded by West African immigrants, mostly Liberians, we have been providing soccer programs for disadvantaged kids who have gone on to graduate from high school, college, and get in the workplace. For the past 19 years, we have provided just that by keeping them busy, playing the game they love rather than being in the streets.”
“I believe that both Lone Star and West Chester United are extremely important to soccer in Pennsylvania, and especially in Philly,” said Santangelo. “I tell Paul this all the time: we are like peanut butter and jelly, we just go together!”