The story writes itself.
Reading United A.C., the PDL affiliate of the Philadelphia Union, will square off with the New York Red Bulls in the third round of the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
United shutout fellow Union affiliate Harrisburg 1-0 Tuesday night with clinical defense and a superbly taken goal from striker Mario Pinto-Neto. Reading avenged 2009 and 2011 Open Cup defeats to Harrisburg while at the same time qualifying for the tournament's third round for the first time in franchise history.
"I said to the boys, it's a big step forward for the organization," said Reading head coach Brendan Burke, who also serves as an assistant on the Union technical staff. "We lost 2-1 [in Harrisburg] a couple of years ago and probably should have been up three-nil before they got their first goal. That was a tough one to swallow. That's a good team. That's one of the top teams in USL Pro we beat out there. Our boys have a lot to be proud of and a lot to enjoy, and now it's time to get back to work."
Reading improves to 4-0-0 in all competitions this season. The club, which fielded three Philadelphia Union academy products on Tuesday night, is unbeaten in both PDL and Open Cup play.
"It was awesome to come out with a win against Harrisburg City Islanders, a USL team, a team at a (higher level) than us," said United goalkeeper John McCarthy, who made six saves on the night. "They're a great team. We took it right to 'em, they gave it right back to us. It was an even game I thought, overall, but our mind was set. We drove through as a team and we played well."
By far, the most impressive feat is Reading's shutout streak, which now stands at 360 minutes.
Amazingly, the club has not conceded a single goal this season. United has scored 14 goals in four games, earning a mind-numbing +14 goal differential in all competitions.
"It's a mentality," Burke explained. "We've tried to make our training environment extremely intense, and that carries over into these matches. You saw Darius (Madison) chasing laterally 60 yards towards the end of that game. That's hard work that doesn't show up on the score sheet, but wins you games. When you're defending from the front, like our forwards did, it's difficult for teams to get any sort of rhythm."
Burke's players echoed those sentiments.
"We have a really strong squad," said goal scorer Pinto-Neto. "We've got great players in our defense, in our midfield, and with the forwards. All of the players who step on the field, they can do their job."
"We've just been playing as a team you know?," added Jamaican center back Damion Lowe, whom Burke praised post-game. "Everyone has an understanding of what their role is on the field and they're just doing a great job."
Post-game, the buzz was all about next week's trip to Red Bull Arena.
Pinto-Neto referred to New York's Brazilian midfielder Juninho as "one of his idols".
Lowe calls the game, quote, "a big one".
"It's a great experience for me because I've never played in Red Bull Arena," Lowe said. "Knowing that I'm a kid from Jamaica, the Caribbean you know, just coming into a different environment and playing with top class players (is great). It'll be a great experience, not only for me but for the club, because the club has never gotten this far in the Open Cup."
"You can't even get me started on Red Bull," laughed McCarthy. "I mean, I've been thinking about this game for awhile, almost a week or so. By the time we get out there I'm just gonna be stomach, nerves, butterflies, it's like living a dream. It's a great opportunity, get out there and play against a bunch of professionals. It doesn't get much better than that. To be the first Reading team to make it this far, I'm honored to play with this team right now."
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org