Reading United: Match Reports

Reading United win extra time thriller

Photo: Courtesy of Glenn Riegel/Reading United

Tuesday night’s Premier Development League Division Playoff match was a classic with Reading United hosting Jersey Express in a physical match on a scortching evening at Albright College’s Shirk Stadium. 90 minutes was not enough to separate the rivals and with a penalty kick shootout looming, the biggest moment of the match was delivered by the smallest man on the field. 5’3″ Dante Marini, a midfielder from Northeastern University raced through the Express defense and buried the ball into the net to send Reading to their fourth Eastern Conference Championship appearance in five years.

First Half

With Philadelphia Union stars Gabe and Michael Farfan in attendance, Reading went in search of a win against a team that has frustrated United for the past two seasons, doing so without key contributors Deshorn Brown, Olutolani Ibikunle, Pedro Ribeiro and Greg Cochrane. Jersey came to town with their full complement of players, including their leading scorer Joseph Ovenseri and goalkeeping ace Rafael Diaz.

Jersey started brightly and controlled the action through the first 10 minutes of play. Jerrod Laventure and Ovenseri tested United’s keeper Emmanuel Martin on multiple occassions in the first 20 minutes of the match, forcing the Frenchman into several acrobatic saves. United responded at the other end of the pitch and tested Diaz in the 23rd minute when he did well to snare a cheeky chip from Ian Christianson. Stephen Okai then forced Diaz to make a reflex save a minute later. With United coming into the match, Diaz was again called to snuff out Okai’s point blank shot in the 30th.

United finally scored the breakthrough in the 39th minute when Ian Christianson poked home a cross from his Georgetown teammate Steve Neumann. “I just played a quick first time ball and found the gap between the center back and outside back and just slid it light under the goalkeeper,” Neumann said of his score.

With the advantage, United continued to press for an important second goal as the first half ended.

Second Half

With just 45 minutes separating Reading United from the Eastern Conference Championships, the home side went on the attack. Christianson fed Okai, whose blast from 20 yards was saved by the diving Diaz in the 46th minute. Diaz made another fine save to deny Neumann in the 51st minute.

Reading had a golden opportunity to extend their lead in the 59th minute when defender Johnny Raj put a header on frame that Diaz could only parry. The rebound fell to David Rodriguez who had an open net in front of him, only to see Diaz recover to collect the center back’s shot. It was a chance that United would regret not finishing.

Jersey took the initiative as the second half wore on and the wear and tear of three matches in five days began to take a toll on United. After a decent spell of possession, Jersey earned a corner in the 70th minute. The goal mouth scramble that followed the corner saw the Express’ Jake Keegan slam the ball into the back of the Reading net to make it 1-1 with 20 minutes to settle the match.

Jersey controlled the final quarter of an hour and forced Martin into several game saving stops. The biggest save of night so far came when Martin batted away what appeared to certain goal in the 84th minute.

Both teams went to the substitute bench in the match’s dying moments. Jersey took Ovenseri out of the match in favor of midfielder Jason Watson in the 86th minute. United coach Brendan Burke countered by inserting midfielder Dante Marini for forward Lucas Baldin in the 88th minute.

Neither team was able to find a last gasp winner and the PDL Eastern Conference’s Divisional Playoff headed to extra time.

Extra Time  

With momentum of their side, Jersey took the match to a weary United, pressuring the home team in the opening minutes of the first period of extra time. The Express created a glorious chance to win the match when Walter Hines attacked the left side of Reading’s penalty area and sent a perfect low cross through the box. Fortunately for Reading, no one in a green jersey could put a foot on the ball and Rodriguez finally cleared the danger.

Burke went to the bench again in the 98th minute, inserting Luis Farfan to relieve an exhausted Christianson. With his brothers watching from the stands, Farfan was unable to help United turn back the tide of Jersey pressure.

Raj picked up a yellow card in the 102nd minute when he went in too hard on a challenge. The yellow card was back out in the 104th minute when Jersey’s Shawn Foster tackled Wyatt from behind. In the 105th minute, Jason Watson was in position to win the match for Jersey only to be spectacularly denied by Martin.

Tensions were high and nerves were fraying on the benches and in the stands of Shirk Stadium as the match entered it’s climactic final 15 minutes. In the huddle between the two periods of extra time Burke told his team, “We’ve been the better team all night, you deserve this, but you’re not gonna get it unless you put in the next fifteen minutes and continue to work for what you earned.”

Marini earned United their first real chance of extra time when he beat his man but was dragged down to earn a free kick in the 107th minute. Okai stood over the ball, but his effort sailed well over the bar. Two minutes later, Raj went in on a sliding tackle with studs showing on Jersey’s Abdoulaye Coulibaly. Though there was no contact, the referee reached for his yellow card and then the red card and Raj was ejected. For the second time in three matches, United found themselves down to 10 men.

“We went back to the same shape as we used against Ocean City last week, when we went to a diamond in the midfield, one up top, kept it compact and just protected the middle of the field in front of the center backs,” Burke said of the unfortunate but familiar situation his team found itself in. With Raj off the field, Farfan dropped into the right back position for the remainder of the match.

Jersey attacked Farfan’s side of the defense, but Gabe and Michael’s brother held firm. Burke was full of praise for Farfan when he said, “He did a fantastic job and connected every pass and won every tackle when he came on.”

And then it happened. With the lottery of penalty kicks seconds away, Marini picked up the ball near midfield and sprinted past the Jersey defense in the 119th minute. With only Diaz to beat, the diminutive midfield blasted a shot to the near post to give United a 2-1 lead that set off a huge celebration at Shirk Stadium.

Marini said of the winner, “I just took a touch and smashed it near post. The keeper was cheating far post the whole game and I caught him, scored. I think I ran as fast as I did the whole game after I scored to the bench to celebrate. That was fun!”

DOOP had barely finished playing over the stadium’s loud speakers when Wyatt was hauled down in the penalty area by Coulibaly in the 120th minute. The ref sent the Jersey forward for an early shower and Okai ended the match by burying his penalty kick to give United a 3-1 victory.

With the win, Reading United advanced to the Eastern Conference Championships at a location to be determined.

Scoring Summary:
39′  REA:    Ian Christianson (Steve Neumann)
70′  JER:  Jake Keegan
119′ REA:   Dante Marini
120′ REA:  Stephen Okai  (PK)

Shots: Reading 20, Jersey 19
Saves: Reading 7, Jersey 9
Fouls: Reading 8, Jersey 17
Offsides: Reading 3, Jersey 3
Corners: Reading 7, Jersey 2

Cautions:
JER: Joseph Niouky 27’
JER: Sylvain N’Guessan 57’
JER: Walter Hines 80’
REA: Jonny Raj 102’
JER: Shaun Foster 104’
JER: Jason Watson 107’
REA: Jonny Raj 110’
JER: Joseph Niouky 119’
REA: Paul Wyatt 120’

Ejections:
REA: Jonny Raj (110’)
JER: Joseph Niouky (119’)

2 Comments

  1. Wait, there’s another Farfan? Sign him up, Union!

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