Photo: Courtesy of Glenn Riegel/Reading United
EDITOR’S NOTE: PSP welcomes Sean Doyle, who provides an in-depth look at Philadelphia Union affiliate Reading United.
The future of Major League Soccer is showcased on glorious, warm (sometimes downright hot) summer nights in Reading, Pennsylvania. A short hour and ten minute road trip away from PPL Park in Chester, Reading United puts on a dazzling display of attacking soccer played by some of the top college soccer players from across the United States. On any given game night, it’s a safe bet that you are watching at least three Reading United players that will eventually be joining the professional ranks, which could come as soon as the next MLS SuperDraft.
Before United there was the Rage
The club that would become known as Reading United AC was founded in 1995 as Reading Rage. The wildly successful 1994 FIFA World Cup Finals played on American soil was still fresh in the memories of US soccer fans, and the birth of Major League Soccer was still a year away when former Penn State All American Archie Moylan got the ball rolling on what has become the second longest tenured minor league team in Reading.
At the time, Reading Rage consisted of many local soccer stars and performed well on the pitch throughout the 1990s, winning the 1997 D3 Pro League Mid-Atlantic title. The team continued to thrive but sadly lost Moylan in 2000 when he passed away after battling cancer. Moylan’s contribution to the team is honored by the team as part of the Clover-Flash emblem that United wear on the sleeve of their jersey.
In 2004, the team transitioned away from the ProLeague and moved into the USL’s Premier Development League, a league that focuses on younger, college aged players with less fixed expenses for franchises. As the Rage gained their footing in the PDL, the 2007 season saw the addition of a young central defender from Boston College named Brendan Burke.
Burke’s addition would signal a new era for the club as the man that brought Burke to Reading, Derek Broadley, departed to become the manager of Bermuda’s National Team. In 2008, Reading two critical members of today’s coaching and management staff. Troy Snyder, a former member of the United States Men’s National Soccer Team and a prominent figure in eastern Pennsylvania’s soccer scene, and Art Auchenbach, the club’s general partner, set out to establish Reading as one of the premier soccer organizations for youth training and development.
Reading then tapped Burke to become the club’s manager in 2008. Burke went about recruiting a squad consisting of talented local players and supplemented that team with some of the best college soccer players in the country. The foundation of excellence was in place, and with the tireless efforts of Burke, Snyder and Auchenbach, Rage won the club’s first PDL Eastern Conference Title in 2008. Reading continued its rise to the top of the PDL in 2009 when they secured the regular season national title as well as the United Soccer League’s marketing award.
Partnership with the Union
Late in 2009, as Reading prepared for its 15th season they entered into a player development partnership with Major League Soccer’s newest franchise, Philadelphia Union. As part of the affiliation with the Union, Reading Rage was rebranded Reading United AC and adopted the colors of the Philadelphia Union.
The partnership resulted in immediate success, as Burke and Reading United assembled the 2010 roster that would ultimately yield eight players who would go on to play in MLS. The 2010 Reading United AC squad was led by 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year CJ Sapong and 2012 MLS SuperDraft No. 1 pick Andrew Wenger. Reading United romped through the 2010 regular season, winning the Mid-Atlantic Division and moved on to the PDL semifinals where they faced Portland Timbers ‘ U23 squad. In a hotly contested match at Jeld-Wen field in front of a raucous Timber Army, United fell to Portland by a score of 2-1. Portland went on to become the 2011 PDL National Champs.
Despite the disappointing loss in the PDL semifinals, one of Reading United’s most successful days came on Jan. 13, 2011 at the MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore. With Snyder, Auchenbach, Burke and some loyal Reading United supporters in attendance, United saw four former players drafted. Zarek Valentin went fourth to Chivas USA, CJ Sapong 10th to Sporting Kansas City, Corey Hertzog 13th to the New York Red Bulls, and Levi Houapeu 41st to the Union. Additionally, Alex Dixon had signed a homegrown contract with Houston Dynamo just days before the draft. Two months later, Burke added a new line to his resume as he joined the Union coaching staff as its reserve team coach.
Burke looked to follow up on the wildly successful 2010 season by stockpiling even more talent for the 2011 campaign. The 2011 squad featured Creighton University goalkeeper Brian Holt, University of Mobile midfielder Stephen Okai, University of Virginia forwards Brian Ownby and Will Bates, and North Carolina defender Matt Hedges returning for his second season with United. The team struggled to gel throughout the summer as many of United’s talented players trialed with European clubs. By the club’s lofty expectations, 2011 was a disappointing season. The club finished second in the PDL Mid-Atlantic Division, falling at home to a feisty Jersey Express side during the PDL playoffs.
The 2012 MLS SuperDraft once again highlighted the talent that Burke fostered, as United saw Lancaster County native Wenger was selected with the first pick by expansion club Montreal Impact. Additionally, Hedges joined United’s honor roll of first round draft picks when FC Dallas took him with the 11th pick. Raymon Gaddis, who played for United in 2010 and 2011, was selected by the Union in the second round as the 35th overall pick. The United-Union partnership has clearly paid dividends with Gaddis’s on field performance this season for the Union. However, Reading United’s success did not end there. The MLS Supplemental Draft saw three more United alums, Brian Ownby, Evans Frimpong and Christian Barriero selected.
The 2012 Reading United
The 2012 edition of Reading United is out to a fast start, as they currently stand unbeaten in PDL play with a record of 4-0-1. In their last league match, Reading used Deshorn Brown’s second half brace and a stellar defensive effort to send PDL newcomers Baltimore Bohemians back to Charm City with a 2-0 loss.
United’s attack is spearheaded by South Jersey native Ryan Finley from Notre Dame, James Madison forward Paul Wyatt, Brazilian Pedro Ribiero and leading goal scorer Brown. The stout defense again starts with the strong play of holding midfielder Stephen Okai. Louisville left back Greg Cochrane, Wake Forest standout Olutolani Ibikunle, Union reserve player Matt Baker and team captain Ged “The Godfather” Quinn make up the four man back line. Penn State keeper Emmanuel Martin has posted three clean sheets this term.
United heads down to the shore today for a top of the table clash with fierce rival Ocean City FC before facing the Union Saturday in a friendly match at Gene Shirk Stadium at Albright College in Reading.
Friendly with the Union
As United heads into its third clash with Philadelphia Union, Burke will no doubt attempt to spread minutes across his talented roster to showcase his men against the struggling Zolos and rest what will surely be some weary legs following the team’s clash with Ocean City.
United will attack Philadelphia’s smallish back line with the big bodies of 6’3” Ribiero, 6’ Wyatt and 6’ Finley. Look for Burke to order up a heavy dose of crosses into the Union penalty area. Stephen Okai will look to impress as he supports his back line and jump starts the Reading attack from his holding midfield role. United will need to be mindful of Ray Gaddis’ speed as he makes his raids up the flanks and be patient when defending the trickery employed by Michael Farfan. Burke knows this Philadelphia Union side extremely well and will have his charges ready to earn their first victory in the series.
Last season’s Union-United friendly saw Reading snatch a late equalizer as Chris Harmon slotted home to cancel out Gabe Farfan’s 45th minute tally. In the inaugural match in 2010, Philadelphia used an Eric Schoenle first half own goal and a second half score by Nick Zimmerman to down United 2-0.
The Reading United-Philadelphia Union friendly is quickly becoming a great early summer tradition. If you plan to make the trip to Reading, arrive early. Parking is at a premium around Shirk Stadium, but there is no charge to park. Expect a Sons of Ben contingency to join the Locos, Reading United’s small but faithful supporters group, to add their usual energy to the match as well as some comedy. Last season saw members of the Sons of Ben serenade Jordan Harvey, exchange banter with Kyle Nakazawa and bask in the antics of Faryd Mondragon’s son. Don’t forget to bring a camera and a Sharpie, as this is a fantastic time for the kids to get autographs and photos with members of the Union and the young stars of United.