Photos: Courtesy of Reading United/Glenn Riegel Photography
Weird things happen on Friday the 13th.
In a match that pitted two of the Premier Development League’s top teams, Reading United walked out of Albright College’s Shirk Stadium with an impressive 2-0 victory over Mid-Atlantic Division leaders Ocean City FC.
The weird part is how United earned the win, by playing a man down for sixty minutes, outworking the opposition to find two second half goals and making the PDL’s second leading scorer all but invisible in a match with major playoff implications.
United started the match without three major contributors to the success of the 2012 team. PDL leading scorer Deshorn Brown and defenders Greg Cochrane and Olutolani Ibikunle were not available for selection due to commitments with their college teams. Brendan Burke—who returned to the United bench after several matches away with the Philadelphia Union—and Reading technical director Troy Snyder bolstered the United back line by bringing former UNC defender David Rodriguez back to the Reading club. Rodriguez was the keystone of the 2011 Reading United backline and had bounced around the lower divisions of US Soccer, with stints with the Harrisburg City Islanders and Charleston Battery.
Rodriguez paired up with Philly Soccer Page contributor Kyle McCarthy in the center of a very tall Reading back line. Johnny Raj started in place of Cochrane on the right, with Matt Baker holding down the left flank.
Ocean City controlled the opening minutes of the match as United worked themselves into the flow of the match. United had the first scoring opportunity when big man Pedro Ribeiro found space in the center of Ocean City’s defense only to send his shot high. Steve Neuman signaled his intentions for the evening with a thunderous strike in the 14th minute. Working from the midfield, Neuman again had a golden opportunity to open the scoring in the 20th minute, but his point blank shot was well saved by Ocean City keeper John McCarthy. A minute later, United midfielder Stephen Okai was booked by referee Eric Weisbrod for a rash tackle.
The match became a bit cynical following the caution to Okai, with both teams committing needless challenges that slowed play. All that changed in the 31st minute when Okai went in with a reckless studs up, two footed tackle from behind that earned him a straight red card and an early shower.
Down a man, United bunkered in and attempted to regroup for the remainder of the first half. Adding injury to insult, Ribeiro was cut down and landed awkwardly on his right shoulder. He soldiered on through the dying minutes of the first half with a suspected shoulder separation. Only the crossbar saved United in the 42nd minute, as Zoncher Dennis was a fraction of an inch from putting the Nor’Easters into the lead.
Seconds later, Ocean City had the ball in the back of the net, but United were again spared, this time by the linesman flag. The teams entered the locker at halftime even on the scoreboard.
The character of a team is often revealed by how well the team responds to adversity. Down to ten men versus the second best team in the PDL, Brendan Burke made tactical adjustments before coming out of the locker room for the second half.
“At halftime, we changed the shape,” said Burke after the match. “We made it compact, and we said you are going to have to commit to making sixty, seventy yard runs when we counter.” Lucas Baldin replaced the injured Ribeiro at the start of the second half.
Defensively, United was extremely solid at the back as the team followed Burke’s instructions to near perfection. The centerback pair of Rodriguez and McCarthy were unbeatable in the air, winning nearly every headed ball in the Reading defensive third.
“We knew we had to be tough back there and win everything,” Rodriguez said of the United defense. “Any one mistake would just cost us the three points.”
Johnny Raj was cautioned in the 52nd minute for what looked like a very good challenge near the Ocean City bench as the match again became a bit chippy.
United would find the opener in the 56th minute after a clumsy challenge gifted Reading a free kick opportunity in a dangerous position. Neumann stepped up for the free kick and struck a great ball that beat Ocean City’s two man wall and McCarthy low to his near post.
Stunned by finding themselves trailing to 10-man Reading, Tim Oswald went to his bench and swapped Scott Davis for Max Hamilton. Oswald made more changes in the 62nd minute when Emmanuel Kollie and Jason Plumhoff entered the fray. Kollie’s first impact on the match earned him a yellow card for a harsh challenge near the benches.
Reading looked to be the team with the man advantage in the second half as Ocean City tried and failed to muster any real threat to the United back four. In a rare foray into Reading defensive third, an Ocean City turnover led to a fast Reading counter attack. Neumann picked out a streaking Paul Wyatt with a long pass over the top. Wyatt did the rest when he beat two Nor’Easters defenders and went around the onrushing McCarthy to coolly slot home his second goal of the season in the 70th minute.
The Reading goal signaled more changes for Ocean City as Oswald yanked McCarthy for backup keeper Tyler Miller. Miller’s first touch was silly foul on United’s Ian Christianson in the box and Weisbrod pointed straight to the spot. Christianson stepped up to take the penalty with a chance to kill off the Nor’Easters in the 74th minute, but he only managed to rattle the left post with his shot.
Reading continued to boss play as they knocked the ball around the field, holding possession and taking valuable time off the clock. When Ocean City did mount a challenge in final minutes of the match, United dropped into defensive position and stymied their frustrated opponents. As full time approached, Luis Farfan, younger brother the Philadelphia Union’s Gabe and Michael Farfan, made a cameo appearance for Reading.
When the referee blew for full time, United celebrated a statement victory over a division rival and one of the PDL’s best and most in form clubs. United are now unbeaten in their last six matches and still have a chance to steal the Mid-Atlantic Division title.
After the match, Burke was full of praise for players. “Couldn’t be happier with the response from Paul Wyatt, Ian Christianson, Peckham, all of them, everyone. Everyone that played in that second half did fantastically well!”
Steve Neumann was the Man of the Match with a goal and an assist while threatening Ocean City’s goal all throughout the match. United’s back line of David Rodriguez, Kyle McCarthy, Johnny Raj and Matt Baker also deserve much credit for helping Emmanuel Martin keep his sixth clean sheet of the 2012 season. Against one of the Mid-Atlantic Division’s top scoring teams, Martin had to record just one save all night.
United close out the 2012 regular season with a road trip to the Central Jersey Spartans on Sunday. Reading beat the Spartans 3-0 back on May 25 thanks to Ryan Finley brace and a goal from Pedro Ribeiro. The Spartans must play New Jersey Rangers FC on Saturday before facing Reading 24 hours later. Reading can claim a fourth division title in five years with a win over Central Jersey coupled with an Ocean City loss to sixth place Brooklyn Knights, who travel to face the Nor’easters on Sunday at 7pm.
Reading: Steve Neumann 54′
Reading: Paul Wyatt 70′ (Steve Neumann)
Reading United Starting XI: Martin, Baker, McCarthy, Rodriguez, Raj, Okai, Peckham, Neumann, Christianson, Wyatt, Ribiero
Ocean City Starting XI: McCarthy, Bibbs, Chapman, Curran, Machinguata, Fink, Gibbs, Hamilton, Dennis, Lecroix, Tweneboa