“2018 was a belter!”
In a year that can be defined by a broad assortment of superlatives, Reading United Head Coach Alan McCann may have captured it best in his very Irish way. The 2018 Reading United campaign was freaking amazing on so many levels, from an unbeaten regular season, to a breathtaking run in the Premier Development League playoffs, hosting the National Championship Match at a rollicking Gurski Stadium, McCann earning Coach of the Year honors to ending the year by being named the league’s Franchise of the Year. 2018 was indeed a belter.
The year kicked off in Philadelphia as the Pennsylvania Convention Center again played host to the Major League Soccer SuperDraft. Highlighting United’s continued excellence in preparing college prospects for the professional game, Reading alums Mo Adams and Paul Marie were selected in the first round of the draft. Adams, selected 10th overall by the Chicago Fire, and Marie, chosen by the San Jose Earthquakes with the 12th pick, pushed the number of Reading alums selected in the first round of the SuperDraft to 21.
In March, Reading United were tapped to play in the 2018 edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It was the club’s tenth consecutive appearance, a record for amateur clubs, in U.S. Soccer’s oldest national competition. The boys in Blue and Gold would go on to defeat Christos FC in a penalty kick shootout to win an opening round match in the Cup for the seventh straight season.
As the calendar turned to May, Reading United opened their 23rd season with a spirted 2-0 win on the road at local rivals Lehigh Valley United. Aaron Molloy, the 2017 PDL Young Player of the Year, iced the game with one of his trademark long range goals.
United remained hot as spring turned to summer. McCann’s side rattled off five straight wins to open the season, including a thrilling come from behind 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls U23s.
Undeterred by a scrappy 1-1 draw on the road against the Long Island Rough Riders, United banged off another five game winning streak, which included back-to-back wins over arch-rivals Ocean City.
A draw on the road against the Red Bulls and a third win over Ocean City saw United clinch the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Division title for the fifth time in club history.
A confident Reading United side rolled into the regular season finale against Lehigh Valley looking to make history and secure the club’s first ever unbeaten season. The boys from Allentown had other ideas.
LVU put Reading to the sword, holding a 2-0 an hour into the match. The soccer gods didn’t appear to be on Reading’s side following Aaron Molloy’s penalty kick that was well saved.
Defeat stared Reading United in the face but McCann and his boys still had plenty of fight in them. The first year coach went to three at the back and inserted the lively Spencer Burkhardt in to the game.
The gutsy call turned the tide of the game. Speedy winger Ezana Kahsay halved the deficit in 77th minutes, while Burkhardt would tie the game in the 84th minute off a mouthwatering pass from Zach Zandi. Two minutes later, Kahsay found the back of the net again and sealed the win and an unbeaten regular season for Reading.
The PDL postseason beckoned, and for the second time in three seasons, Reading United were tapped to host the Eastern Conference Final Four.
United’s faithful fans were treated to a breathless seven goal thriller as Reading ran out of Gurski with a 4-3 win over the South Atlantic Division winners, Myrtle Beach Mutiny, to open the playoffs. The win set up a third clash between Reading and a stacked Red Bulls U23 team in the Eastern Conference Championship game.
Fighting through a wind driven rain, United used a pair of Khori Bennett goals and an all hands on deck defensive effort to stymie the Baby Bulls and claim a 2-1 victory and the club’s first Eastern Conference Championship since 2010.
Bennett’s second goal of the match, his 18th career tally for Reading, made him the club’s all-time leading goal scorer, passing United legend Aaron Wheeler.
A home date against The Villages SC in the PDL Final Four on a glorious late July evening was all that separated Reading United from a chance to play for a national championship.
The match against The Villages was a tense affair from the opening kick-off. Two of the best defense in league went toe-to-toe in a clash that was deadlocked at 0-0 for over 114 nail biting minutes.
One of the most memorable goals in club history broke the deadlock in the 115th minute of play. Timely pressure from team captain Aaron Molloy forced a throw-in deep in the Villages end of the pitch. Berks County native Pierre Reedy quickly lofted a ball in to Kieran Roberts, who turned his defender and poked the ball into the Buffaloes net for the match winner and a place in the PDL Championship Game.
After the full time whistle, young fans stormed the field and celebrated the historic win with the Reading players in a moment that will live long in the memories of everyone in the stadium that evening.
The PDL Championship Game was awarded to Reading, where the club would host Calgary Foothills FC in the league’s showpiece finale.
Hardly a seat could be found as Berks County area soccer fans packed Gurski Stadium, creating a buzzing atmosphere fit for a championship game.
Calgary drew first blood in the 12th minute when Ali Musse scored on a free kick twenty yards from goal.
Reading would charge back through their captain and talisman Aaron Molloy. A foul on the edge of the Calgary penalty area set the stage as Molloy rocketed a free kick into the top corner of the net, igniting wild celebrations throughout Gurski Stadium just before the halftime whistle.
In the 79th minute, Kieran Roberts thumped a header past the Calgary goalkeeper to push Reading within touching distance of the championship.
But it was not meant to be. A series of unfortunate events cascaded into heartbreak as United conceded a late equalizer and then succumbed to Calgary in extra-time, falling 4-2 to end the most decorated season in club history.
The sting of a loss in the championship game was mitigated as Reading United picked up two prestigious post season honors.
Alan McCann’s magical debut season as United’s head coach earned him Premier Development League Coach of the Year honors.
Reading United also picked up the PDL’s coveted Franchise of the Year award, a testament to all of the work and dedication that goes on at the soccer club, on and off the field.
In December, four Reading alums were announced as a part of the initial list of invitees to the annual Major League Soccer player combine ahead of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. Former United standouts Jakov Basic, Hugo Delhommelle, Ben Lundt and Kamal Miller will look to take the same well-worn path from Reading to professional soccer.
There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Reading United’s 2018 season and it’s not hyperbole to call this past season the best in club history. Season after season, Reading United has set the bar as one of the top clubs in the flourishing Premier Development League. 2018 saw Reading United exceed its own lofty expectations and set a new standard as the club transitions into the rebranded USL League Two.
Thank you fans for joying us on an unbelievable run in 2018!
Ezana Kahsay's game-winning goal against Lehigh Valley in the regular season finale secured Reading United's first ever unbeaten season. (Photo Credit: Dave Musante/Penn Images)
2018 saw Khori Bennett became Reading United's all-time leading goal scorer having netted 18 times for the club in all competitions.