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Reading United advance to second round of U.S. Open Cup on penalties

Kieran Roberts scored the equalizer and deciding penalty kick to send the Philadelphia Union PDL affiliate through

Reading United players celebrate winning a penalty shootout over Christos FC in the U.S. Open Cup first round on May 9, 2018
Matt Ralph

Christos FC won’t get a chance to repeat their fairy tale run last year in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup after falling in penalties to Reading United on Wednesday evening at Alvernia University.

It took a second-half equalizer and five made penalty kicks for Reading United to outlast the visitors from Maryland and advance to the second round for the sixth straight year and eighth time overall in club history.

“I thought it was great, a good battle, they were a good side but we pushed through at the end,” said Kieran Roberts, who scored both the equalizer and the decisive penalty for the Union’s PDL affiliate.

After training together only twice to prepare for the match, a Reading United squad with six returners and four Philadelphia Union Academy grads struggled a bit out of the gate against a Christos team with far more familiarity and experience playing together.

Christos took the lead in just the fourth minute after a turnover led to a foul when Pete Caringi was dragged down just outside the 18. Tyler Rudy’s ensuing free kick took a deflection on the way through the Reading wall and goalkeeper Bennett Strutz could only watch the ball hit the back of the neck.

“First half it showed that we’re new playing together,” head coach Alan McCann said. “They were sloppy and it cost us in front of goal.”

The goal was a wake-up for Reading United, which responded with a string of possession that bent but didn’t break the Christos FC back line.

After regrouping at halftime, Reading United came out on the front foot in the second half searching for an equalizer that finally came when substitute Sebastian Hauret played a perfectly weighted ball to the feet of Roberts who slotted home past Phil Saunders.

“He’s come in and changed the game for us,” McCann said of Hauret. “He found pockets of space in front of the back four and behind their two central midfielders.”

Reading continued to create chances through the rest of regulation and overtime, but several resulted in shots right at Saunders. Aaron Molloy, who had a shot cleared off the line in the first half by a defender, came closest in the second period of overtime with a rocketed shot from 30 yards away that Saunders made an acrobatic play to keep out.

“I thought most of the game was all us, we kept the ball well and we had the majority of the chances, but you know they held on tight,” said Roberts, who made his Open Cup debut in the match. “It was definitely a thriller, a good game and I’m excited for the next one.”

In PKs, Strutz made the key save on the second attempt for Christos and all five United kick takers converted, including Molloy, Hauret, Thibault Chretien, Alex Lipinski and Roberts, whose goal set off a joyous celebration.

“That’s always a happy place to be is in the second round,” said McCann, who made his head coaching debut for Reading United in the game. “Would I have liked to do it in normal time and not even had to take extra time? Yeah, but we’ll take it.”

Reading will next turn to the PDL with their season opener on Saturday at Lehigh Valley United before returning to Open Cup action next Wednesday, back at Alvernia University, against the Richmond Kickers.

In other first round Open Cup action on Wednesday night, the Ocean City Nor’easters also advanced with a 3-0 win over AFC Ann Arbor in Michigan. Williams N’Dah, Simone Raioli and the team’s leading scorer from last season, Fredinho Mompremier, scored. Alex Smir made seven saves to earn the clean sheet in his Nor’easters debut.

Ocean City will hit the road again next Wednesday to face Charlotte Independence in Matthews, North Carolina. They open their PDL season on Sunday on the road at FA Euro New York in Brooklyn.