Photo: Glenn Riegel, courtesy of Reading United AC
(Editor’s Note: Over the next three months, PSP will give readers an unprecedented look inside one of the nation’s top minor league soccer clubs, Reading United AC, which plays in the Premier Development League, the fourth tier of American soccer, and draws its players from colleges around the country. One of those players is Villanova senior defender Kyle McCarthy, whose weekly column gives an uncensored view of life for players in the PDL. He sent us his first dispatch Monday, a day before Reading’s U.S. Open Cup match against Charleston.)
After finishing up my last final at Villanova University, I packed about as much stuff as you can possibly fit into my tiny sedan and set off on the hour-long trip that would begin my summer-long journey in Reading. Nervous, yet excited, I did not know what would await me in my new city.
The decision to come to Reading had started five months prior, via the recommendation of my assistant coach at Villanova. Having played for the Central Jersey Spartans the past two PDL seasons, I was already acquainted with Reading United. Talented, hardworking, and organized, they were always a very tough opponent. My coach focused his praise on how well the franchise is run off the field, before adding that he believed it would be a great move for my career. Thus, the chance to join such an organization was too good to pass up.
So for my first post, I thought I’d give a basic overview of what I have experienced since my arrival.
Sitting at dinner with the staff and squad for our first official meet and greet with local media and fans, one thing became clear: Not only is this team good, they know they’re good.
The attitude felt almost arrogant from a newcomer’s perspective, but coming from a team that has made the semifinals of the PDL Championship twice in the past four years, it is an arrogance that has been earned. Over the course of the event, the staff spoke at length about what makes Reading United special. They cited the club’s past accolades and accomplishments, listed their collection of former players now in the professional ranks, and gave an impressively detailed biographical breakdown of all 40-something of our new players. Most importantly, the ultimate goal for the season, as it is every year for Reading United, was declared: Win the PDL Championship. The staff constantly reiterated their confidence in the current squad to attain this goal. Based on all the nodding heads around the room, the players hold the same level of belief.
With about 30 players currently practicing with the team (and more to come), intense is too weak a word to describe the level of training. Every day, each player is pushing himself to the limit in a passionate pursuit to make an impact and impress the coach, Brendan Burke. Each session offers this chance, a chance that must be grabbed if you intend to stand out against your peers and earn a spot on the field. This highly competitive environment feels almost like a reality television show at times, with 30 contestants battling it out for a coveted prize. But instead of a comically large check for $50,000, the prize is a “well done” or “good job” from Brendan. The players are also fighting for the respect of each other. With impressive resumes attached to each player, everyone feels they have something to prove to one another. It’s the type of environment that can only make you better as a player, mentally and physically, and I look forward for more to come.
Game day for each player starts from an unusual place: His computer.
The night before the upcoming match, the 18-man roster is decided by Brendan and emailed to the players. With only 18 players selected, nerves run high when the email enters your inbox, and fingers become crossed in hopes of your name being listed. If selected as one of the fortunate few, you head out the next afternoon to the G.N.A. Ristorante and Pizzeria in West Reading for a delicious pre-game meal. Afterwards, it’s straight to the locker room at Albright Stadium where your kit is laid out and you await the pre-game team talk from Brendan.
I had originally planned to take summer classes at Villanova and live on campus about an hour away from Reading. After I discovered the only classes I needed to take were distance learning courses, I was assigned to a town house with five other teammates. With no cable and a weak Wi-Fi signal that I’m pretty sure we are stealing from a neighbor, there isn’t much for us to do outside of soccer. Usually mundane tasks, such as grocery shopping or getting gas, have never seemed so entertaining, offering us a welcome respite from staring at our walls. If not for the Redbox at our local Giant store, we surely would have gone insane by now.
The biggest adjustment for all of us has been cooking, as none of us have much experience. Our clumsy, primitive techniques to cook food would certainly make a proper chef cry. We find ourselves constantly opening windows and waving the smoke away from our shrieking fire alarms, praying each time that the local fire department doesn’t send a truck. After spending a week in the kitchen, dangerously putting together three meals per day, we have all developed a greater appreciation for our parents.
That’s it for now. My next post will center around our current run to the second round of the U.S. Open Cup. After defeating New York Greek American Atlas by a score of 2-1 in the first round, we will play the USL Pro Charleston Battery on their home field on May 22nd. With a win, we will play the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on the 29th.