On Saturday evening, Reading United AC dropped a 3-2 friendly decision to their MLS affiliate, the Philadelphia Union.
But for the college standouts that make up the Reading roster, they may have won something else in the process: the chance to impress the Union coaching staff. For tangible proof of what this annual exhibition means to the players challenging their MLS brethren, all you need to do is look at ex-Reading player Ray Gaddis, who is now a starting defender for Philadelphia and arguably one of the top rookies in MLS.
“Two years ago in this game, Ray was a guy that gave himself a little bit of an advantage,” Union assistant coach John Hackworth said following the game. “Some guys out there tonight played very well and we’ll keep following them and bring a couple of them to train with us with the first team.”
Reading – currently in first place in the Mid Atlantic Division of the USL PDL – certainly had a few players show the kind of skill that can lead to a further look, with Ryan Finley (Notre Dame) and Paul Wyatt (James Madison) delivering the goals in a game that was more physical than most friendlies.
But the Union – who, interestingly enough, fielded a younger lineup than their USL PDL hosts – used goals from rookie Chandler Hoffman and teenager Jack McInerney, as well as an own-goal from Reading, to come out on top.
“For our guys, this is the highlight of the season,” said Reading United coach Brendan Burke. “I think it’s something they’ll be talking about for the rest of the summer.”
Burke is one of the main reasons why the partnership between the Union and Reading United is so strong. Not only does he coach Reading – where he’s able to attract some of the country’s best college players and create what Hackworth calls a professional environment – he’s also a member of the Union technical staff as the coach of Philly’s Reserve League team.
Undoubtedly, Burke will help identify the best Reading players if the time comes to call up reinforcements for training, Reserve games or even more.
“Our connection with them is very real,” Hackworth said. “I hope it means a lot to those guys in the locker room knowing they do have the ability to not only play against us but to train with us. And we want them to aspire to one day sign a contract with the Union.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.