Photo: Courtesy of Glenn Riegel/Reading United
Video: Courtesy of @barbcvphilly
Friendly may not have been the best way to describe the third meeting of Philadelphia Union and their Premier Development League affiliate, Reading United AC. Saturday’s match saw a record for goals scored in the series and will go down as the most physical and contentious meeting between the two clubs. Brendan Burke’s United side did not back down from the challenge posed by their Major League Soccer opponents, but they did walk away on the wrong end of a 3-2 loss.
The Union travelled to Reading’s Shirk Stadium on the campus of Albright College with a mostly reserve side. Notable absentees for Philadelphia were Freddy Adu, Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Brian Carroll and Lionard Pajoy. Coach John Hackworth used the friendly to give minutes to many of the Union’s youngsters. Youth was served with a lineup that partnered Chandler Hoffman and Antoine Hoppenot leading the Union attack, Michael Farfan, Zach Pfeffer, Cristhian Hernandez and Jimmy McLaughlin teamed up in the Union midfield, and Ray Gaddis, Greg Jordan, Amobi Okugo and captain Gabe Farfan charged with protecting goalkeeper Chris Konopka. One of the stories of the night centered around Gaddis, as he became the first Reading United alum to play for the Union in the short history of the series.
A bit of fixture congestion for United caused a shuffling of the lineup for the clash with Philadelphia. Less than 24 hours earlier, Reading went on the road and secured three points from division rival Ocean City FC , 2-1. Burke sat center back and captain Ged Quinn and kept leading scorer Deshorn Brown and fellow forward Paul Wyatt on the substitue bench.
The action got underway with the Union having most of the possession and pressing forward in search of an opener. The lively crowd gathered at Shirk Stadium didn’t need to wait long as in the 8th minute Hernandez found Hoffman in space, and Hoffman slotted home past Reading keeper Emmanuel Martin to put Philadelphia on the board, 1-0.
The goal, however, settled United as they began to find their footing and aggressively claw their way back into the match. The match became more physical as each side looked to establish themselves, with United midfielder Stephen Okai finding his way into the referee’s book after hauling down Hoppenot in the 19th minute.
Nine minutes later, more physical play saw Gabriel Farfan go down in the United defensive third of the field. Farfan was seen clutching his lower back as he left the field and appeared to be very uncomfortable after the match. Farfan’s exit from the match ushered in the return of Union midfield Roger Torres, who had finally overcome a knee injury that had sidelined him since early April.
United were gifted an opening in the 33rd minute as the referee judged Hernandez to have handled the ball in the Union penalty area. South Jersey native and former ACC Offensive Player of the Year Ryan Finley power a shot past Konopka low right to tie the score 1-1.
The Union responded with pressure and were rewarded with a penalty kick when United defender Greg Cochrane took down a Union attacker in the box. Torres had the opportunity to put the Union into the lead in the 39th, only to see his penalty kick saved by a diving Martin.
Martin was again called into action soon after when Torres put an inch perfect pass onto the boot of Hoffman, who uncorked a drive that Martin tipped over the crossbar.
As the match entered the final 45 minutes, both coaches took the opportunity to change their personnel. Hackworth dispatched Josue Martinez and Jack McInerney to replace Michael Farfan and Gaddis. Burke made wholesale changes, as Paul Wyatt and Deshorn Brown came off the bench to lead United’s second half charge. Martin was replaced by Keasel Broom.
As the new players began to find the match, the Union began to find space down United’s right defensive flank. Hoppenot, Martinez and McInerney linked up on multiple occasions, with Hoppenot finding holes and free runs into Reading’s penalty area.
The pressure paid off in the 57th minute. Steven Neumann fouled Roger Torres just outside the Reading 18. McInerney cooly stepped up and buried the free kick in the 57th minute to restore the Union’s advantage to 2-1.
The Union continued to exploit the gaps in United’s defense, and Hoppenot continued to press forward. His high energy was almost rewarded in the 66th minute as he lost his mark to go one on one with Broom, but the Reading net minder stood tall to deny Hoppenot.
In the 73rd, United’s back line was again at sixes and sevens when Hoffman went looking for his second goal but he pushed his shot wide, only to see Reading’s Tyler Newnam attempt to clear the ball and mishit it into the back of the Reading goal. The own goal handed Philadelphia a much deserved 3-1 lead.
Things began to get heated after the Union’s third tally. Several on-field skirmishes saw Torres crash into the fence surrounding the pitch, Hoffman harshly fouled, McInerney cautioned for a rough challenge from behind, and Wyatt and Okugo pushing and chirping at one another. Still United would not back down to their MLS counterparts.
In the 80th minute, Wyatt showed off his class as some deft footwork enabled him to charge into the Union penalty area and unleash a blistering shot that Chris Konopka was powerless to defend. Wyatt’s strike cut the Union lead to 3-2, but that would be all for the fireworks on the field.
When the final whistle blew, the Union walked out of Shirk Stadium with a 3-2 victory, a three-game winning streak and a much needed boost of confidence ahead of next week’s showdown with Eastern Conference rival D.C. United.
Reading United could hold their heads high as they battled their MLS affiliate valiantly for ninety minutes. For many of the United players, this was a first test against MLS competition. The players that pulled on the white Reading United jerseys only need to look across the field to Ray Gaddis to see just where their hard work and time with United can get them.
PHI – Hoffman 8′, McInerney 60′, Newnam (OG) 73′
RUAC – Finley (PK) 33′, Wyatt 80′