Union strengthen bond with Reading in 1-1 friendly tie

READING, Pa. — It would have been hard for Brendan Burke to see either the Philadelphia Union or Reading United AC lose Tuesday night’s friendly. Luckily, he didn’t have to.

Burke, who coaches both Reading United and the Union Reserve Team, watched as the two clubs played to a 1-1 draw in front of 1,373 fans at Don Thomas Stadium.

The exhibition game served as a chance for the Union to stay fresh between MLS games while giving exposure to a Reading club filled with college all-stars. Reading, a USL Premier Development squad, are a minor league affiliate of the Union.

“If I could have worn both shirts tonight, I would have,” said Burke, who spent the night on the Reading bench. “It’s great for them to come to Reading and spend time with our kids and show them what the level [in MLS] is like. [Philadelphia] definitely did that in the first half.

“Then, it was great for our reserve players with the Union to go against top college kids, guys scratching and clawing at their heels,” he added. “That’s what the PDL is about: showing guys at MLS what they’re capable of and that they can hang with people at this level.”

Reading certainly hung with the Union and then tied the game right before the final whistle blew on a strike from distance from Chris Harmon, an Old Dominion midfielder and a native of nearby Downingtown. Brian Ownby and Brian “Cobi” Span, teammates at the University of Virginia, were other standouts for Reading.

Rookie Gabriel Farfan scored the only goal for the Union, who trotted out their first team for the opening half before subbing in their reserves for the second stanza. Philly’s second-team group included academy star Jimmy McLaughin, who has become a fixture for the Union in friendlies and Reserve League matches, as well as Reading defenders Matt Baker and David Rodriguez.

“This night was about our relationship with Reading United,” said Union assistant coach John Hackworth. “Part of what we want to do is make sure there is a step for players to go from one level to the next. David and Matt played with our reserves last weekend and did a great job. We want to make sure the players on the other side of the field know the opportunity is real.”

Hackworth admitted the turnaround was difficult for some of his own players after having played in Toronto just three days earlier, but was encouraged by the effort put forward nonetheless. Perhaps no sight was more encouraging than 16-year-old Zach Pfeffer occupying the central midfield for the entire second half.

Pfeffer, the club’s only Home Grown signing, had been completely out of commission for two weeks following an appendectomy.

“I felt a little tired toward the end,” Pfeffer admitted. “Hopefully this is just my first step back and I can keep improving my fitness.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.