For Union, friendly with USLers more than just a game
Like any team, the Philadelphia Union want to win. But when it comes to Tuesday night's exhibition game against minor league affiliate Reading United AC at Don Thomas Stadium at 7:30 pm ET, winning is far from the most important thing.
The main goals for the Union: Building their fan base, getting a head start on college scouting, gaining exposure for their own younger players and, most importantly, continuing the strategy of reaching out to all the rungs in their development system.
Reading United AC, a USL Premier Development League squad that is home to many college and ex-college stars, is an integral rung in that system.
“They are the link we have to the top college players in the country,” Union assistant coach John Hackworth (pictured above) told MLSsoccer.com. “That’s why Reading becomes so important for us — it’s one of the staircase steps we have in our tiered approach to a player climbing the ladder all the way to the first team.”
Hackworth added that the team wants to make sure that “connection is real,” which is why the Union are making the trip to Reading and staying after the game ends to take pictures and sign autographs for fans, like they did last year. Also helping with that connection is Brendan Burke, who is the head coach of Reading and is also on staff with the Union as the club’s reserve-team coach.
“Brendan Burke and [Reading technical director Troy Snyder] do a tremendous job with the program,” Hackworth said. “They run it like a professional team. They have the best college players from all over the country. That’s why they are a team at that level that has been extremely successful over the past couple of years.”
Having Reading as their minor league affiliate has already proved beneficial for the Union. With Philly shorthanded due to a few injuries, they took two Reading players — midfielder Matt Baker and defender David Rodriguez, alums of the University of Pittsburgh and University of North Carolina, respectively — with them to Toronto this past weekend for their Reserve League game, which turned out to be a scoreless draw.
Hackworth also specifically mentioned two current college players on Reading — Kirk Urso (UNC) and Brian Ownby (Virginia) — who will probably be top MLS draft picks in the future.
And the amateur club will likely soon be the home of top Union academy players such as Jimmy McLaughlin, as soon as he finishes high school.
“There are guys we have invested in, coached in the past and want to be connected to the Union,” Hackworth said of the Reading roster. “I think that’s a big selling point for Reading. College guys and even ex-college player want to be in this environment. They know that if they do it right, they’ll have a shot.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.