By any stretch of the imagination, Reading United’s start to the 2013 season has been nothing short of phenomenal. The Philadelphia Union’s Premier Development League partner is off to a sterling undefeated start (3-0-0 in PDL play, 5-0-0 in all competitions). The United defense has been unbreakable, posting a 450 consecutive minutes shut out streak to start the 2013 campaign. Reading’s offense has been flying high, tallying 18 goals to date, many of them highlight reel material.
So what club are United rewarded with playing in the Third Round of the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup? None other than the team every Union fan loves to hate, the Eastern Conference-leading New York Red Bulls.
Reading United preview
United have steamrolled through all competitions this season, most recently disposing of PDL new boys FA Euro – New York Magic 4-0 on Memorial Day. Reading got out to an early lead thanks to a nifty back heel goal from La Salle midfielder Jason Plumhoff, then doubled the advantage through Patrick Slogic’s 40th minute strike. It was more of the same in the second half, with diminutive midfield ace Dante Marini notching a brace against the struggling New York club.
United advanced to this stage of the Cup by first grinding out a 2-0 win over the 2012 NPSL Champions, FC Lehigh Valley United Sonic. Reading captain and MLS SuperDraft top prospect Steve Neumann scored from what looked like an impossible angle to seal a second round date with USL-Pro outfit, Harrisburg City Islanders. The Islanders were caught off guard by United’s high tempo attack, and Mario Pinto’s left footed volley proved to be the match winner. Much credit must go to the United back four anchored by Jamaican center back Damion Lowe for withstanding a late siege by the City Islanders.
Head Coach Brendan Burke has employed an attractive up-tempo, pressing style of play that has served his side very well. The Reading attack is keyed by Neumann in the middle of the field, with the outside back’s racing down the opposition’s flanks to join the attack. Pinto, a speedy Brazilian forward, leads all Reading goalscorers with four goals. Loyala (MD) forward Larry Ndjock joins Pinto in running straight at opponents’ back line.
With five games played over 17 days, Burke choose to rely on the club’s depth to help rest legs ahead of tonight’s clash.
New York Red Bulls preview
The Red Bulls come into tonight’s match on an impressive run of their own. New York are unbeaten in seven matches (5-0-2) following a dramatic 2-2 draw with the Columbus Crew over the weekend when Jamison Olave rescued the Red Bulls with a second half stoppage time equalizer.
The Open Cup has been nightmarish for the Red Bulls/MetroStars over the years. Last year, the Red Bulls crashed out of the competition in the fourth round at the hands of the City Islanders. The New York side has only appeared in one Open Cup final, way back in 2003 when they lost at home to the Chicago Fire.
New York head coach Mike Petke tipped his hand a bit in the run up to the match with Reading when he said, “I take the U.S. Open Cup very seriously, but we have to as a staff, figure out a way to get the most out of the players that we put out there without compromising the games (last) Sunday and the following Saturday.” Petke continued, “We are going to be competitive and looking at this competition as a great opportunity moving forward. It is definitely taken very seriously and we just need to figure out exactly which way we are going to go with it.”
In other words, it looks like Mr. Thierry Henry won’t be lining up against United. Expect the Red Bulls to use this match to get minutes to players who’ve not seen much action in league play. This means players like Connor Lade and Michael Bustamante should see action. One player unlikely to feature in the Red Bulls line-up is Reading United alum Ian Christianson. The midfielder is nursing a stress fracture in his foot and will look on as his old club look to stun his new club.
One guy who might play significant minutes is Brazilian legend and dead ball specialist Juninho. “You can see Juninho play for an extended period tomorrow. He didn’t start the last game and he is a guy who likes to keep his fitness up,” Petke told Big Apple Soccer on Tuesday.
Another player that is familiar with Reading may also start in goal for New York. Ryan Meara, who spent his college summers playing for Reading’s Mid-Atlantic Division rival the Jersey Express, has been recovering from a hip injury that cut short a very promising rookie campaign.
As fellow PDL side Ocean City proved at PPL Park on Tuesday night, lower division opposition can be a potential banana peel for first division teams.
Reading come into the match full of confidence and with the pressure of expectation lifted from their shoulders. Burke’s side won’t be intimidated by what is sure to be a potent, but weakened Red Bull starting XI as New York will rely on it’s lesser stars to get the job done tonight in Harrison. A jumbled Red Bull line-up that is rusty and lacks cohesion may present Reading with their best opportunity to shock the soccer world.
It’s difficult for any club to go into Red Bull Arena and get a result. It’s even more difficult to imagine a squad of college stars stealing a win in Harrison. The midnight bells are likely to bring an end to Reading United’s Cinderella Cup run. But then again, this is the U.S. Open Cup and stranger things have happened.