For Reading United AC playing in the US Open Cup has become an annual tradition.
Taking the field in the first round Wednesday against Clarkstown SC will be the Premier Development League (PDL) side’s ninth consecutive appearance in America’s oldest tournament, a Modern Era (1995-present) record for an amateur team.
While professional teams are guaranteed a spot every season, for Reading United, and every other amateur side, must qualify.
“It shows the type of player we are able to get,” Reading United president Art Auchenbach said. “The fact we have been able to make the playoffs almost every year but continue to be one of the top teams in the eastern conference is almost as good as the amateur record in the Open Cup.”
Making the run more difficult is Reading, a Philadelphia Union affiliate just over an hour northwest of Philadelphia, plays in the PDL’s Mid-Atlantic division which is consistently one of the most competitive in the 72-team league.
However, it took until current USL Bethlehem Steel head coach Brendan Burke was hired at 25 for the team to find success. Burke won the division in his first year, which earned a sport in the 2009 Open Cup and started the current streak.
“It’s good for the players, exposure and experience playing in the oldest tournament,” current head coach Stephen Hogan said. “For me to play in it was exciting and getting to the second round because you play a very high level team.”
Hogan played on the 2009 team that lost in the first round to the Harrisburg City Islanders (USL-2). Prior to that, the only time the club had reached the tournament was as a Division 3 USL pro team when they were one-and-done in 2001 and 2003.
A large part of Reading’s sustained success is its desire to be as professional of an organization as possible. That along with an affiliation with the Philadelphia Union and consistent success has attracted some of the best college players.
Some of those that have contributed to Reading’s success have been current Major League Soccer players Matt Hedges, Luke Mulholland, Keagan Rosenberry, C.J. Sapong and Andrew Wenger.
After back-to-back losses to Division 3 pro teams in 2010 and 2011, United finally picked up the franchise’s first tournament win. It was a 2-1 result against four-time Open Cup champion New York Greek American Atlas SC. The win rescued them from making an unfortunate place in the record book as it snapped a five-game tournament losing streak, one loss shy of the Modern Era record.
In 2013, Reading enjoyed their best run in the US Open Cup. After defeating FC Lehigh Valley United Sonic (NPSL), they faced the Harrisburg City Islanders for the third time in five years and this time they came out on top. A first half goal by Mario Pinto-Neto was all they would need to earn a third round date with the New York Red Bulls (MLS).
“Everybody, myself included, walking into Red Bulls Stadium felt like a tourist,” Auchenbach said. “You’re taking pictures, you’re almost just happy to be there. For the first half of the game we were in it, even if we didn’t create many chances.”
Although Reading lost 2-0 that night, it set the standard for the teams after. None have reached that point since but Reading United has still found success in the tournament’s opening round as they currently have a five-game winning streak in Open Cup openers, which is tied for the Modern Era record for an amateur team.
United are 6-9-1 (0-1 PKs) all-time (6-7-1 as a PDL team). They will host Clarkston on May 10 where they are 6-2 in their team history. They are still without a road win in their tournament history (0-7-1, 0-1 PKs).
A unique challenge for PDL teams and the Open Cup is a majority of the team arriving from their colleges less than a week before the first round. Some instances have had the player arrive the night before or day of the game.
“We have done well because our top guys are mostly in because they know what the US Open Cup means,” Hogan said. “The further they go the better teams they are going to be exposed to.”