(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of posts in which Reading United and Villanova defender Kyle McCarthy gives an inside look at what life is really like playing for one of the top Premier Development League teams in the country.)
Hello again! It’s been a long week since my last post, with the highlight being a trip to the beautiful Blackbauld Stadium for our U.S. Open Cup second round game against the Charleston Battery.
After defeating the New York Greek Atlas 2-1 in the first round, we were very excited for the opportunity to travel to Charleston, South Carolina for the next round. A long bus ride and hours of preparation later, we were under the Blackbauld floodlights playing one of the best teams in USL Pro.
So for this week, I will focus on the ins and outs of what it was like on our three-day adventure to play the Charleston Battery.
Touch off for Charleston was scheduled for Monday morning at the lovely hour of 3 am. With a team meeting running until 8:30 pm Sunday night, we were left with the difficult decision of whether or not to fall asleep before driving to the departure point. The verdict was split within my house, with some choosing to get as much sleep as possible, while others decided to stay awake by watching Katherine Heigl’s most recent cinematic abomination, One for the Money. When the time came, we packed our gear in the car and headed for the bus.
The bus was beautiful. With plush leather seats that reclined almost 180 degrees, we felt we were going to be in for a great ride. For the majority of the trip we were right, up until Stephen Okai got control of the DVD system.
After breakfast at a Waffle House where we witnessed a gun-toting patron serve his dog waffles in exchange for tricks (not a joke), Stephen made his way to the front of the bus and popped in a DVD for us to enjoy. What followed could only be described as five hours of nonstop, kung fu action spoken in what might have been an alien language. Not even Stephen could identify what they were speaking. When the hero killed his 500th victim with only his thumb and a dirty look, we finally decided we had seen enough and pulled the DVD.
Upon our arrival at the hotel, we quickly put our stuff in our rooms and reported back to the lobby to go to training. After a twelve-hour bus ride, it was imperative that we get our legs moving as soon a possible so that we wouldn’t feel groggy the next day. With the temperature somewhere in the high 80’s, training was kept light. We jogged and stretched to loosen up our legs, played some keep away, and then ended with finishing.
We returned to the hotel to rest and have our team dinner. Dinner was a choice between lasagna and southern favorite barbequed spare ribs. I went with the lasagna, and upon receiving my meal, was given a lesson in both class and proper eating techniques by our Parisian goalkeeper, Emmanuel Martin. After my first bite, he loudly scolded me for not waiting for the rest of the team to receive their meal. After my second bite, he laughed at my usage of a knife to cut my lasagna, and demonstrated how to correctly cut it with only my fork.
Once dinner was over, it was back up to our rooms to try to get some sleep, but I soon realized the lasagna had not filled me up. Not one to go to sleep on an empty stomach, I hitched a ride on the hotel shuttle to the nearest gas station and grabbed some Snickers and Gatorade. After another hour or so of sorely missed cable TV, I was finally able to sleep.
The next morning we enjoyed a small breakfast before joining Coach Brendan Burke for a tactical talk on our opponent. He showed us film of their most recent game and broke down their formation, playing style, and personnel on a white board. We then went outside to stretch our legs by going on a scenic walk through some parking lots and the back of a carpet cleaning business. After another period of rest, we had a team dinner of chicken and pasta and then boarded the bus for the stadium.
One thing was for sure: The Charleston boys were big and athletic. When our left back Greg Cochrane stood next to Charleston’s Charlie Romero, it looked like something out of Rodman Philbrick’s classic tale, Freak the Mighty.
Despite their size and experience, we knew we had the talent to win the match. We certainly came close. After holding our own in a scoreless first half, we came into the second with even more confidence. In the 65th minute, Tolani Ibikunle scored off a corner kick and everything looked like it was falling into place. Unfortunately, it was not to be as five minutes later Charleston equalized and then grabbed the winner in the 79th minute.
We boarded the bus immediately after the game, and headed home. The loss hurt, especially because victory would have meant playing at Red Bull Arena against an MLS side in the next round. In the end, it was still a good learning experience that will help us build for future success in the PDL regular season.