John McCarthy: He’s one of us

Photo: Glenn Riegel, courtesy of Reading United

John McCarthy is “Philly Tough.”

The term has been bandied around the Philadelphia Union organization for several seasons, but no one quite embodies the term the way the club’s newest starting goalkeeper does. Born and raised in Philadelphia, McCarthy’s grit and dogged determination will be on full display at PPL Park on Saturday when he looks to lift the fortunes of his hometown club against MLS newbies, New York City FC.

McCarthy’s credentials up to this point in his very young professional career are impressive. He’s a four time All-Atlantic 10 Conference selection and a 2012 Premier Development League All-Eastern Conference pick. In his first professional season with the Rochester Rhinos, he recorded a league leading nine shutouts on the way to claiming USL Rookie of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year honors.

But what makes him “Philly Tough”?

Let’s go back to Reading United’s magical run in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup. After seeing off Lehigh Valley United in the first round, Reading faced off with fellow Union affiliate, the Harrisburg City Islanders, in the tournament’s second round. The City Islanders traveled to Reading with a roster that included Union homegrowns Jimmy McLaughlin and Cristhian Hernandez, as well as former Union midfielder Morgan Langley. It was McCarthy who jump-started United’s offense, booming a long kick down field that found forward Mario Pinto. The Brazilian playmaker hit a spectacular volleyed shot over Harrisburg ‘keeper Nick Noble for Reading’s only goal of the night.

McCarthy then rallied his defense, barking instructions and encouragement to his teammates, as Harrisburg began to bully their amateur opposition in search of an equalizer. The City Islanders hit United with wave upon wave of pressure, forcing McCarthy into several game saving blocks. Set pieces had the look of a street fight, but the United keeper was always brave off his line, confidently claiming every Harrisburg corner and cross. At full time, Reading’s lone goal held up thanks in large part to a heroic effort from McCarthy and the Reading defense.

Fast forward to Reading’s third round clash with the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. McCarthy was relaxed and brimming with confidence and it showed on the field of play.

New York had multiple looks at goal in the first half, but Reading’s young goalkeeper denied then at every opportunity. One of the highlights of the match was McCarthy’s sensational double save to deny Connor Lade’s initial effort and Michael Bustamante’s follow-up. Battered, bloodied but undaunted, McCarthy helped Reading United keep the eventual Supporters Shield winners off the scoreboard for 61 minutes.

Former Reading United center back Damion Lowe, now with the Seattle Sounders, paid his old goalkeeper the highest compliment, saying, “When your defense is in trouble, he’ll definitely come up big. He’s fearless and a leader of men.”

More than just tough

While McCarthy has the physical tools and internal drive to be a solid contributor in Major League Soccer, he also possesses a great soccer mind.

During McCarthy’s summer in Reading, we sat together at one of United’s youth camps. The young goalkeeper’s tactical acuity and breadth of soccer knowledge were impressive. His high soccer IQ translates on the field through his vocal leadership. Throughout a match, McCarthy is in constant communication with his back line, directing and organizing, handing out a tongue lashing for a defender’s momentary lapse, or offering praise for a job well done.

This is not to say our new starting goalkeeper won’t make mistakes or have the occasional gaffe that all young goalkeepers are prone to. Those things are going to happen as McCarthy continues to grow and refine his craft. But unlike his predecessor, the La Salle University grad has consistently shown his mental toughness, putting errors behind him and readying himself for the next opportunity.

He’s one of us

As we get to know our new man between the pipes, perhaps the most important thing to consider is that John McCarthy is one of us. He’s brings a blue collar mentality to the soccer field and never backs down from a challenge. The former North Catholic High School star has lived through the trials and triumphs of our city’s sports teams and understands the passion and expectations of the 18,000 fans that will bring PPL Park to life in his first start for his hometown Major League Soccer club.

Plain and simple: He gives a damn about this team and wants nothing more than to help the Philadelphia Union succeed.

McCarthy is set to represent his city — our city — for the first time on Saturday. He knows how special that moment will be.

When asked what he imagined it would be like to play with the Sons of Ben pulsating in the River End behind him, with family and friends watching on from the same stands he once sat in, McCarthy said “It’ll just be unreal. I’m going to try to enjoy it and hopefully get the shutout and get the win for team. When the opportunity comes, I’m really going to enjoy it and be grateful for it.”

We’ll be right there with him.


  1. Can we hire Bruce Buffer away from UFC for one night? I want to hear him say, “When the action starts, our goalkeeper this evening: Big John McCarthy!”

  2. Good luck Johnny! Union’s first win on Saturday. How do I know? I had to give up my tix for a family event. When that happens, the games are always good!

  3. McCarthy is Philly tough because he went to North Catholic. That is all anyone needs to know!

  4. i’d be lying if i said this article didn’t make me feel any better about this team and its goalkeeping situation

  5. Good luck, young man!

  6. Staci Klemmer says:

    And he is a really nice guy, too! Can’t wait for Saturday!

  7. speaking of Philly Tough…how ’bout Fernando and his surgically repaired hand!

    • Jim Presti says:

      Straight savage. He made no indication that he was injured at any point in the match. Hustled for 96+ minutes.

  8. Scottymac says:

    Our hopes rest with the third string keeper(or is he 4th with Zac just on loan)?


  9. OneManWolfpack says:

    I’m a Judge guy myself, but I am from and still live in Mayfair. Unfortunately I can’t make this weekend, but I will damn sure be watching. Tear it up John!! Best of Luck!! Right this ship!!

  10. I don’t care if our new goalkeeper is from Philly or from Mars. If he can contribute, great. If not, fill his spot with someone else.
    Same rules apply to the head coach.

  11. Liz Anne McCarthy says:

    Thank you!

  12. 700 chopper says:

    Soccer – 1929, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1937, 1952, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1990, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2008 Lets Go John McCarthy from a proud Falcon. Class of 1987!!!!!!

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