Allentown—May 3—It was the type of challenge you see a dozen times a weekend at youth soccer tournaments. In the under-14 2015 Eastern Pennsylvania Presidents Cup final on Sunday, FC Europa’s Matt Rossi raced onto a through ball in the attacking third. As Rossi closed on the pass, the Wyoming Valley keeper slid out with his feet to disrupt the threat. The ball caromed off the keeper’s shin as the bodies clashed. Rossi crumpled to the grass. Play went on.
With the prevalence of knocks, bruises, strains, and twists inherent to soccer, there was no immediate cause for concern. Players go down all the time and, especially at the youth level, get up in due time. But Rossi stayed on the ground long enough for the referee to blow his whistle. Then, the Wyoming Valley and FC Europa players in Rossi’s vicinity sprinted away in horror. An audible gasp went out from the nearby fans and the coaches who ran to the teenager’s aid. The on-site trainer pulled up in her golf cart. She immediately called for an ambulance.
Rossi had broken his fibula and tibia in the collision. FC Europa coach Dave Pettican gathered his players on the sideline as their injured teammate attempted to stay agonizingly still while the paramedics stabilized his broken leg.
The game, 1-1 at the time of the injury, was delayed for nearly 30 minutes.
“We all play this sport and we know the risks involved,” said Pettican. “Injuries are a part of any game and any sport, and I said (to his team) ‘If we continue to think about it, it’s going to affect us.’ The message we got from Matt was go out and win it for him.”
Europa did just that. Inspired by Rossi’s request, the Chester County club scored some three minutes after the restart. It proved to be the game winner in a 2-1 final. Europa collected a state championship and advances to play at the Region I Presidents Cup Final later this month.
But it was the show of sportsmanship that resonated with Pettican. Before Rossi was carted away from the field his Europa teammates surrounded him. One by one they gave him a pat on the shoulder or reached for a high five. Soon the Wyoming Valley players ran over to do the same.
“I thought it was wonderful. When we collected the trophies and medals at the end I said the sportsmanship (Wyoming Valley) showed was second to none,” Pettican said. “It was fantastic. Our boys went over and wanted to do a guard of honor and see (Rossi) off the field and show their respect for him. And for Wyoming Valley to come over and show that type of sportsmanship was fantastic. It really was. It was the spirit of the cup and that was wonderful.”