After coming up empty in their two previous trips to Pennsylvania in league play, the Richmond Kickers finally had something to celebrate on the four-hour bus ride back to Virginia on Wednesday night: advancing in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
“Pennsylvania seemed a little cursed to us,” goalkeeper Trevor Spangenberg said after Wednesday’s penalty shootout win in Reading, referring to 4-1 and 3-1 losses in two previous trips this season to play Bethlehem Steel FC in USL play.
Spangenberg didn’t start either of those matches — on-loan D.C. United goalkeeper Travis Worra got the call both times — but was a big reason why the Kickers are moving on to the third round of the competition after making eight saves and stopping two shots in the penalty shootout.
“It’s definitely been a while since I’ve been in a penalty shootout but we prepared all week for it, we know that situation can arise in the Open Cup, anything can happen,” he said. “Reading played a great game; it’s nice to just close out there and the bus trip home is a little more happy.”
Like they did at home last week in a Round 1 game against Christos FC (the team that upset Richmond in last year’s tournament), Reading fell behind early when Koby Osei-Wusu cleaned up a rebound in the 8th minute off a shot from Heveil Cordoves and then spent much of the rest of the half controlling possession but coming up empty in their search for an equalizer.
Reading’s team had five changes to the starting lineup from last week, which they had only two training sessions to prepare for in their first game of 2018. As an amateur team filled with college players on varying final exam schedules, it’s a scenario the Philadelphia Union Premier Development League affiliate faces every May.
“It’s just impossible to really prepare because there are four or five individuals we haven’t seen before even from the first game,” Kickers head coach Leigh Cowlishaw said. “After the goal we scored, it was one-way traffic (for Reading).”
The tying goal finally came for Reading in the 70th minute when substitute Austin Maloney made a darting run down the right flank and served a cross in to Khori Bennett, who flicked it home to even the score at 1-1.
“Austin’s come in and we also put Khori up at the nine too so happy with the return there,” head coach Alan McCann said. “Austin’s come in and taken the defender on directly, which we ask our lads to do on the wing. He has a low-driven ball and Khori finishes it. Very happy with that but we need to be taking more.”
It was another run and pass from Maloney in extra time that set up Alex Lipinski for a would-be winner that hit the right post. Defender Will Campbell also hit the post on a shot attempt that would have saved the eventual heartache in the penalty shootout. An Oscar Umar ejection with five minutes left in overtime gave the Reading offense one more boost in the final five minutes plus stoppage time. Umar saw red for contact to the face of a Reading player.
In the end, the small differences between a professional team and an amateur one filled with professional hopefuls determined the outcome. Reading outshot Richmond 21-8 for the match.
“That’s what pro teams do, they punish you when you don’t take your chances,” McCann said. “These are the harsh lessons they learn now for when they do make the jump. That’s what we take out of it.”
Cowlishaw admitted that his team was “very fortunate” to get to penalties and will take solace in knowing they get to play another Pennsylvania team — Penn FC — at home in the next round on May 23. Penn FC topped FC Motown 3-1 on Wednesday night to advance.
“I think we regrouped in overtime and finally got control of the game,” Cowlishaw said. “I was very confident we’d win on penalties because of Trevor and I knew the guys who would be stepping up to take them.”
Richmond won the shootout 4-3 with Neil Hlavaty’s kick holding up as the decisive one when Spartenberg, who has made only one start in USL play this season, stopped Bennett’s attempt in the fifth round of spot kicks. Spartenberg also saved Lipinski’s attempt while Reading keeper Bennet Strutz made the first save of the shootout on Mekeil Williams.
“Like the last game I was frustrated; we should’ve finished it off in regulation or overtime,” McCann said. “And here we are again.”
-The announced attendance for the game at Alvernia University was 119. The rainy weather from start to finish certainly played a part in that. While Reading United trains and boards players at Alvernia University, they are playing their home games this season at Wilson High School’s Gurski Stadium.
-Richmond advanced to the third round for the first time since 2016 but has now made it to the Third Round or further in eight of the last nine years.