READING, Pa. (May 21, 2013) – Reading United created a little bit of Cup magic on Tuesday night. On warm and humid late evening, United earned a historic 1-0 win over professional side Harrisburg City Islanders in front of their faithful fans. The win helped Reading maintain their perfect start to the 2013 season and also helped them book a place in Round Three of the 100th U.S. Open Cup where they will face Major League Soccer powerhouse, the New York Red Bulls.
United entered the match against their fellow Philadelphia Union affiliate riding a tremendous wave of momentum. Reading started the season by scoring 13 goals while not conceding a single goal to open the 2013 campaign with a 3-0 record in all competitions. After defeating FC Lehigh Valley United, United Head Coach Brendan Burke acknowledge the challenge posed by Harrisburg. "It’s a great opportunity," said Burke. "No real pressure on us, but it’s a big mountain to climb in terms of getting a result."
Mario Pinto celebrates his goal against the City Islanders.
As they had in their three previous matches, United began the match aggressively, putting the pro side on their heels early in the match. United backs Jonny Dolezal and Ben Sweat attacked down the City Islanders flanks while forwards Larry Ndjock and Mario Pinto pressed the Harrisburg back four.
Reading’s hustle and hardwork paid off in the 9th minute. Mario Pinto, the PDL Player of the Week, got under a long ball from goalkeeper John McCarthy. The Brazilian playmaker tracked the ball over his left shoulder and hit a left footed volley past a helpless Nick Noble to stake Reading to an early 1-0 lead.
Harrisburg went in search of an equalizer and began applying pressure on Reading. United left back Ben Sweat was more than a match for former Philadelphia Union midfield Morgan Langley. Langley was frequently dispossed and left frustrated by the talented defender from South Florida.
The City Islanders had a golden opportunity to level the match in the 39th minute. Lucky Mkosana had an open header on goal, only to see McCarthy flash across the net and palm away the big forward’s effort.
John McCarthy makes one of his six saves to deny Harrisburg an equalizer.
The La Salle keeper came up huge for Reading, making clucth save after clucth save to deny Harrisburg. McCarthy posted six saves on the night and helped Reading stretch their consecutive scoreless streak to 360 minutes. The Cinnaminson New, Jersey native credited his back line, "Defense really won this game for us. The defense came in and came through, they helped me out. They had my back."
With Reading 45 minutes from an Open Cup third round date with the New York Red Bulls, Burke made no adjustments to United’s tactics. "We said mentally, you guys need to stay switched on," Burke said of his halftime team talk. "This game will turn on a counter-attack, this game will turn on someone falling asleep on a dead ball. You need to make sure that there are no mental lapses."
Harrisburg came out of halftime on the attack. The United back line was under constant pressure for much of the second half. In need of a goal, Islanders Head Coach Bill Becher turned to his leading scorer Sainey Touray and Yann Ekra in the 61st minute. Intent on holding the lead, Burke countered by deploying holding midfield Fatai Alashe for the tiring Ndjock.
It was end to end stuff as the Islanders surged forward, only to be caught when Reading were able to launch a counterattack through the speedy Darius Madison. The Union academy product troubled the City Islanders backline with his pace and his footwork. A sequence in the 83rd minute saw Madison tip-toe his way through several Harrisburg defenders before forcing Noble to make a fingertip save.
It was almost heartbreak for Reading in the 85th minute when Jimmy Ockford fouled Touray inches outside the Reading penalty area. With the ball in a very dangerous spot, Mkosana’s free kick went straight into the wall. The rebound fell to one of his teammates, but his shot was smothered by McCarthy.
Under relentless siege by Harrisburg over the final minutes, Reading’s defense held firm and kept the Islanders off the scoreboard. Burke acknowledged the fine play of central defender Damion Lowe in helping to preserve the win. "He was my man of the match," said Burke following the game.
Referee Ian Bongaardt’s final whistle signaled a historic victory for United and set off a celebration amongst the Reading supporters. The win was Reading first against a professional opponent in U.S. Open Cup play and avenges a crushing 2-1 loss to Harrisburg in the 2011 U.S. Open Cup. "I’m just very happy for our boys to have accomplished what they did tonight," Burke shared following his post game huddle with the elated Reading squad.
The victory also means Reading will travel to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey to face the New York Red Bulls next Wednesday, May 29th. "It’s like a dream come true, to play against Juninho and all their stars," said a reflective Mario Pinto following the game.