Among the Pines: Hunting Open Cup Magic with PA’s Vereinigung Erzgebirge

Correspondent at large David Einhorn sat down for a beer and a chat with historic amateurs Vereinigung Erzgebirge at the club’s spiritual home in the woods of Southeast PA.
By: David Einhorn

How do you prepare for the biggest game in your club’s history?

It’s a valid question, and one that the all-volunteer crew at Pennsylvania’s Vereinigung Erzgebirge is busy figuring out as we speak. This club – literally tucked away in the piney woods of Warminster, PA – face off with Division III pro side Charlotte Independence on March 21st in the Open Cup.

There’s much to be done – as I found when I traveled to the club’s headquarters and spiritual homebase. 


“If you're going to do it, you've got to love it,” are the watchwords – dripping with wisdom – that set our conversation in motion. Rob Oldfield, coach for two and a half decades and a former player at the historic amateur club, sees the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup through special eyes.


“I basically tell people [at his day job] that when I'm not working, this is what I'm doing. I have told my boss plenty of times that if there's a really big game, there's a chance I'll be out the next day," he explains. They think it's great. I was here every night this week. I've also got two kids. Robbie is nine, and he plays here at the U11 [level]. Gwen is seven and played in our Mighty Mites youth program."


Qualifying for the First Round of the tournament was no easy feat, and the reward for this year's hard work (earned through four knockout games during the 2024 Open Cup Qualifying Rounds) is a date with the Independence of the USL’s League One – a professional outfit from the country’s Division III.

It’s a fixture that means much to everyone involved, from the bartenders in the huge beer hall to the youth players who look up the ladder hoping, someday, to represent the near-100-year-old club’s first team.

Rob Oldfield – former VE player and coach for 25 years

When he's not the director of coaching, coordinating with the first team, or being a devoted father of two young kids, Oldfield is the director of business development at S.C.A. Health – a company that owns and operates surgery centers.


When you see him at the club's event space, Oldfield doesn’t seem like your typical manager. He's dressed in all green, VE-issued team gear and is happy to relax with the players and share a drink and a chat. For a man with multiple Director titles, he's approachable and down to earth – just one of the club men.

"He [Oldfield] does so much. He calls us every single day, coordinating things. It's a lot, but he's easy to play for,” says VE forward Christopher Baker, who works his days in Data Engineering. “He lets you play your own game. It's easy to give your all because he's giving you that foundation.".


Back in 2002, Oldfield was a player-coach for the club. He’d just started out when the team qualified for the 2002 U.S. Open Cup – only eight years into the tournament’s Modern Era. Since then, he’s not been able to take his team back to the First Round, despite VE qualifying for the 2020 edition of the U.S. Open Cup (only for COVID-19 to see the tournament canceled).

Some players from that team are still around at the club – bellying up to the bar and lining up for the Over-30 and senior squads. In addition to this being Oldfield’s 25th year coaching the team, he’s also the director of coaching and runs the club's prestigious summer camp.

"I'm definitely the longest-serving coach,’ he says with an obvious pride. “I love it. There's no paid coaching. You’ve got to do it for the love."


Kevin Smolyn – formerly a midfielder at St Francis University – has similar thoughts. When he's not out on the pitch for VE, he’s a senior associate at his day job. But he feels a responsibility to perform like a professional athlete when pulling on the pine-tinted green of his club.

"If you look at the last game we played, there were probably 20 or 30 youth players there [watching],” he says. “They look up to us, so we feel like we have a sort of responsibility to do well, give them a good game, and be leaders."

VE has thrived through the decades from one generation to the next

But after fighting so hard to get here, there must be challenges an amateur club faces in a national competition. One of these is the fact that the club was unable to get a home game at their own field – right there on the property of their club grounds.

Suddenly, VE’s dreams came true – but at the cost of finding a new field to play on.

"With some of the requirements, we were thrilled that Cairn University was able to step up,” Oldfield says. “We don't usually charge a gate fee, but we decided to do it so we could make a little bit of money. If we can offer it for free to our kids and our players, we'll have a big youth presence there, and that's what we want. We're asking for ten dollars from parents and another five to give to Cairn to donate to them."


Smolyn felt that the club would always find a way. "I think it's trying to get volunteers and as many people from the club as possible to take off work, spend the day at Cairn University, trying to help set up the field, refs, parking, and tickets," he says of what is always a group effort according to the motto of many hands make light work.


Even with all that extra work out of the way, Coach Oldfield sees an even bigger problem when he looks at his roster – one dotted with question marks. "We're all doing something else for a living, so there's no guarantee that you can get everyone together,” he said. “A kid joined us in the fall when he finished his eligibility with Temple [University]. He's already said he has a night class…

“Can you imagine, you can't play because you have a night class? A few others travel for work," the coach added.


Both Baker and Smolyn work for KPMG – an audit, tax and advisory services company. Sometimes, they'll even get lunch together at work and talk about the team. Although they’re at the same company, even they have different situations when it comes to the big game.

It’s a one-for-all-and-all-for-one attitude that sustains clubs like VE

"My boss played soccer in college, so he'll ask me daily how the team is doing. He sees our schedule online and says, 'You have a game today; don't work so hard!' He's coming to the [Open Cup] game, too," says Smolyn.

Baker smiles and adds: "I took the next day off."

"I don't think anyone's expecting us to go out there and win, but at the same time, if we can go out there and do everything we're capable of, it should be a good game,” says Smolyn with his own smile. “We have to be fearless; we have to match them and give them a good game."


Good Pressure Pushes VE On

Baker, used to playing in front of small numbers as most amateurs are, is excited about the crowd noise too. "I hate playing with a crowd that doesn't put pressure on me. Pressure is important to me,” he insists. “If you don't feel pressure, it means that you don't care enough about something.

“If there's no pressure, there's nothing to play for."


Oldfield, a man of many hats, is relaxed about the match but also excited about the exposure for his club.

“It's a lot of work for something you will most likely not win. You are not going to mow through three MLS [Major League Soccer] teams, but it is exposure,” he says. “Qualifying is so challenging. We qualified, and the reward is that we get this game. I'd like to make it competitive, give them a good game, and hope they make mistakes.



“Anything can happen. My goal is to get them [Charlotte Independence players and staff] here,” Oldfield goes on, always the welcoming club man. “We want to get them back [to the club, the beer hall], put out a spread, and let them see the place. I want to let them know that we have been here since 1931 and that we have this family club.

“They’ll think that's pretty cool.”


They should; because it is. Vereinigung Erzgeburg is a club built on the back of generations who love the game and look out for each other. They are ready to show the pros from Charlotte, the other contenders on the biggest day in this club’s recent history, that they deserve to be there.


David Einhorn is a soccer writer and reporter for You can reach him on twitter @awaydavesoccer.