The New York Cosmos like to play up their international roots. With 25 players from 11 countries, it’s no wonder they do. But on May 14, in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup’s Second Round, the glamor boys of the North American Soccer League (NASL) were second best to a similarly international outfit. “We’re from all over the world and all these characters come together to make something bigger,” said Haitian-born Frantzdy Pierrot, who scored the winner for all-amateur Reading United AC when they shocked the pros from the Big Apple.
- READ MORE: Wynalda, LA's Lone Wolf
- READ MORE: Lou City: Respect, Routs and the Open Cup Circle of Life
- READ MORE: #USOC2017 Dreamers One Step From MLS Reckoning
- READ MORE: Four Cupsets in Second Round - Wrap-Up
- READ MORE: Michigan Amateurs Bucking the System
“After the Cosmos scored early, I thought to myself ‘oh boy, we’re in trouble,’” said Irish-born Stephen Hogan, current head coach and former Reading player. “But we made a few adjustments and started to get more of the ball. Then we had a six-minute spell of what I can only call pure ruthlessness where we showed what we were all about.”
In that stretch of six minutes, Reading – college kids who forego their summer breaks to play in the Premier Development League (PDL) – were airborne. If you were watching, and didn’t know better, you’d think the Cosmos were the part-timers and Reading the seasoned pros who’d seen and done it all before. Paul Marie (France), Marco Micaletto (England) and Pierrot all scored in a 3-2 win to knock the New Yorkers out.
“I’ll admit it, we had quiet confidence leading up to that game,” said midfielder Micaletto out of Young Harris College. He’s chatty and clever and has origins, coincidentally, in Reading, England. “But looking back on it now I think it’s clear to all of us that we achieved something bigger than we knew at the time. There’s a lot of pride for us in that result.”
Moment of Magic
What has become pride with the help of time and a little perspective was all shock and pandemonium on the night. “We were hanging on a bit by our fingernails for the last 20 minutes,” admitted coach Hogan. But it didn’t matter. Scenes of raucous celebration from the Reading locker-room were captured in grainy video on someone’s phone and zipped around the Internet. It was an unforgettable moment for a team with players from 12 different countries and four different continents.
“We all put our minds into the cause,” said Northeastern Huskie, Pierrot, born in Port-au-Prince. He speaks slowly and tentatively, but with care. “After they scored early, no one’s head dropped. We picked each other up instead. Micaletto agreed: “It showed we had backbone. We didn’t panic. We showed our character when we needed to.”
While the win over the Cosmos is a big night in the history of the club, Reading United are no strangers to success. Along with the Michigan Bucks, who also booked their place in the Third Round of the Cup with a big win over pro opposition, they are among the top PDL teams in the country, and have been since their founding in 1996. They attract some of the top talent in the college ranks, including NCAA final-four and elite-eight caliber stars. They also put a focus on discovering players with roots overseas that other clubs might overlook.
“It’s tough for a lot of the overseas players to get to grips with the college system of playing three months and then having all this time off,” said Hogan, a native of Dublin, with a keen eye for recruiting attacking talent. “For a lot of them they just prefer to stay here for the summer and keep playing. We have a lot of those guys here. It’s better for them and their ambitions.”
Reading are affiliated with second-tier pro side Bethlehem Steel (USL), where Hogan is a member of the coaching staff, and Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit Philadelphia Union. If a Reading United player shows talent and impresses Hogan, he might get a week’s training with Beth Steel. It’s the next step up. And at the end of the year, if anyone shows enough, it might lead to a stretch with the Union, the top team in the Keystone State.
The vast Majority of Reading’s players are between the ages of 17 and 20, making the victory over the Cosmos – a raft of national team players among them – all the more remarkable. But one thing the Pennsylvania side have working in their favor is their setting. Reading, according to the lads, might not be the most exciting place for a college kid on break to get into trouble and cut loose. It doesn’t have the distractions of say, New York City.
“In Reading?” Irish midfielder Aaron Malloy out of Kaiser University chuckled when asked if he and his teammates get up to any of the kind of antics expected of college kids on break. “Really there’s not much to do here and it’s a good thing because it gives you a real pro mind-set. You can go to the gym, the training pitch or the running track. There’s not much else, so you can say we’re pretty focused on what we’re doing.”
Right Place, Right Time
“We must really love soccer to spend our summers doing this,” added Micaletto, laughing a little about his sleepy summertime digs in Southern Pennsylvania, where most of the team live together in the dormitories of Alvernia University, a literal stone’s throw from the practice fields. “Reading’s not the ideal place for a summer holiday. But we’re all here for a reason. This is the best team to be on to get to the next level.”
“We focus on soccer,” agreed Lander University’s Hugo Delhommelle, a forward from France and one of Hogan’s top prospects, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Reading Alumni like Real Salt Lake’s Luke Mulholland and Matt Hedges of FC Dallas. “When we play here, we’re just a few feet away from Beth Steel and the Philadelphia Union. We share a pitch with them. They can see what we’re doing and there’s opportunity to move on to the pro game.”
They’re no professionals, not yet at least, but Reading’s players sure do sound that way. In fairness, they play that way too. And it’s a fact that should have the Harrisburg City Islanders, their next opponent who currently languish in 12th place in the USL’s Eastern Conference, a little bit worried. “We’re the underdogs,” said Micaletto. “But we were against the Cosmos too, so we’ll see what that means.”
A win against the Islanders would see Reading to the mountaintop; a date with Philadelphia Union, the team they watch every day, waiting for them to clear off the pitch for their turn. It’s the level they hope, one day, to reach. “You’re already starting to hear some banter about a possible Fourth Round game between the guys when the teams pass each other on the pitch,” said Hogan, relishing a chance to see his squad against the big boys. “It’s quiet for now, but who knows, anything can happen.”