Young team adds to club's winning tradition with Open Cup, playoff upsets along with a brave performance vs. DC United
|From left to right, leading scorer Byron Carmichael, head coach Neil Holloway, minutes leader Rory McCrea, All-Conference goalkeeper Tunde Ogunbiyi, All-American JT Noone, and captain Joe Banks. Photos by Bill Pellegrino.|
Soccer fans who would look at the Ocean City Barons’ 9-4-3 regular season record at face value might not understand just how special the 2009 season was. Winning nine games is nothing new to the Ocean City franchise. They have reached the nine-win mark (or more) five of their seven years in the Premier Development League (PDL), but it was their four combined wins in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and the PDL playoffs that set the 2009 campaign apart from all the others, including the undefeated 2004 season.
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When the season began, only 10 players returned from last year’s squad, and of those 10, only half had more than a season of PDL experience. After Mike Pellegrino left the club, general manager Neil Holloway returned to the sidelines as the team’s manager with the goal of getting a relatively young and inexperienced team to come together.
And they did just that.
With the first four games of the season doubling as qualifying games for the US Open Cup, every point is crucial, so when the Barons drew 1-1 in a weather-shortened season opener at Carey Stadium with the Westchester Flames, it put the club in tough position. They needed to win their remaining three games to have a shot at qualifying. After knocking off the Long Island Rough Riders 2-0 in Ocean City (Long Island would only lose two games all season), the Barons needed to win two road games on consecutive days to qualify for the 95-year old tournament. They defeated New Hampshire 1-0 thanks to a J.T. Noone (Temple / Harrisburg) goal on a Friday, and then drove to New Hampshire where they defeated the Phantoms the very next day, 3-0.
Fresh out of high school, 18-year old Kevin Curran (Loyola College / Ocean View, NJ) defends against DC United’s Boyzzz Khumalo in the US Open Cup. Photo: Bill Pellegrino
They carried the momentum of that weekend into a fourth straight victory at the expense of the Newark Ironbound Express the following week. After going winless (0-1-2) in their first three meetings last year, Ocean City beat Newark, 7-1. Ryan Richter (LaSalle / Southampton, PA) and Kyle Miller (Holy Cross / Woodbury, NJ) both came off the bench to score two goals each, but the highlight came in the 77th minute when Billy Pinto (Hofstra / Audubon, NJ), in his fifth season with the Barons, scored his first PDL goal.
The win set up a battle of the unbeatens on June 5 between Ocean City and the Ottawa Fury. The Fury, who would go on to finish the season without a loss, handed the Men In Red their first defeat, 2-0.
The Barons put that loss behind them and focused on their First Round Open Cup game against Crystal Palace Baltimore at the Beach House. Ocean City duplicated their feat from the 2007 tournament, upsetting the professional side from the USL Second Division, 3-0. Byron Carmichael scored a pair of goals and earned himself the USOpenCup.com Player of the Round award for his efforts.
After Joe Banks (Drexel / Sicklerville, NJ) scored a game-winner in a 1-0 victory over Westchester, the Barons were back to Open Cup play less than a week after their win over Palace. This time they faced another Second Division professional team, the Real Maryland Monarchs. The Second Round match at Carey Stadium was a tightly contested match that needed extra time to decide it. A tense Ocean City crowd watched as the home side earned a penalty kick in the 108th minute and with the pressure on, J.T. Noone stepped up to the spot and buried it. The Barons would keep Real Maryland off the scoresheet for the remainder of overtime and earn themselves a date with D.C. United of Major League Soccer (MLS) in the Third Round. It would be the first time in club history that the Barons would face a team from MLS.
William Swetra (James Madison / Egg Harbor, NJ) dribbles through the DC United midfield in the US Open Cup. Swetra led the team with seven assists in all competitions. Photo: Bill Pellegrino
With the DC United game on the horizon, the Barons seemed to lose focus, losing two of their next three games (2-1 at home to Brooklyn and 1-0 at Long Island). Three days prior to the Open Cup game, they picked up a 2-1 win over Rhode Island, hoping to carry some momentum into the Maryland Soccerplex in Boyds, Maryland.
As the last remaining amateur team in the tournament, the Barons earned $10,000 in prize money and the national spotlight as American soccer’s latest Cinderella story.
With hundreds of fans who traveled down from New Jersey in the stands, they witnessed the Barons go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in MLS for 74 minutes. In that fateful 74th minute, Ogunbiyi was called for a foul in his own penalty area and former MLS MVP Christian Gomez scored to break the scoreless tie. Ocean City would give them everything they had in the final minutes, but the United defense came up with some big saves to keep the Men In Red from a shocking equalizer. D.C. would add a goal in the 90th minute to put the game away, but the Barons would hold their heads high, knowing that they put a scare into one of the best teams in the country.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for our guys, unfortunately we come up short, but we knew that when we went a goal down – why not go for it? Why not enjoy ourselves and try to get a goal back? And we very nearly did,” said Holloway after the match.
Ocean City would keep the ball rolling, going undefeated (2-0-2) in their next four games, including a 1-1 draw at home against Ottawa. Carmichael made history on July 2 against Newark when he scored three of the club’s five goals in a 5-1 route. It was his first hat trick in his Barons career, and only the third player in Barons history to accomplish that feat. On July 7, Carmichael would score two goals to bring his club record career total to an even 50. In the fourth game of that stretch, they needed a win to lock up a playoff spot, but were held to a scoreless draw at New Hampshire.
Karl Reddick (Boston College / Pottstown, PA) battles for the ball against Real Maryland in the US Open Cup. Reddick played eight games and scored a crucial penalty kick goal against Long Island on May 17. Photo: Bill Pellegrino
The opening round of the playoffs saw the Barons matched up with the Rough Riders on Long Island. Noone assisted on goals by Carmichael and Rory McCrea to eliminate the second-ranked defensive team in the PDL by a score of 2-0. For Ocean City, it was the first post-season win since 2004.
The win over Long Island earned them a date with the undefeated Ottawa Fury north of the border, the team with the best defense in the PDL and the second-best offense. The "curse of the unbeatens" continued as the Men In Red bounced back from giving up an early goal with a J.T. Noone equalizer in the 60th minute, followed by a game-winning goal in the 98th minute of overtime by Barons defender Tyler Bellamy. Ogunbiyi was the man of the match in goal for Ocean City, making six saves for his second straight playoff victory.
After two road upsets, the Barons traveled to Des Moines for the PDL Quarterfinals, where they would take on the Chicago Fire (PDL). It was a battle between two of the best teams in the League over the last seven years, and Chicago would put an end to the Barons’ playoff run by a score of 3-0.
"This has been the best and most exciting season the club has ever had," said Holloway after the Chicago game. "Obviously, it’s hard to go down like this, but after a couple weeks, I think everyone will look back on this and realize how great a summer this really was.
Defender Jamal Neptune (Hofstra / East Windsor, NJ) battles for the ball with DC United’s Rodney Wallace in the U.S. Open Cup. Photo: Bill Pellegrino
After a tremendous team effort this year, it was Tunde Ogunbiyi who was the lone Baron on the post-season honors list. The Boston College goalkeeper, in his second season with the club, was named to the PDL All-Conference team. In 11 league games, he was 5-4-2, but ranked third in the PDL in goals against average (0.76) and second in goals allowed (8). The Gwynedd, PA native also earned five shutouts, three of them coming in his first three starts of the season, that were crucial to the Barons qualifying for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. His goals against average and shutout totals are the second-best single-season total in Barons history.
"No successful goalkeeper doesn’t have a good defense in front of him and that’s what I had this year," said Ogunbiyi, who says that this is the first individual award he’s ever received. "It’s been a great season for me, the Barons organization and the coaching has been great, and they put together a great defense in front of me. The defense all gets along really well, and that has definitely helped."
While in-season tournaments are not factored into the criteria for PDL awards, Ogunbiyi also earned two shutouts in Open Cup play against professional sides Crystal Palace Baltimore and Real Maryland. The seven shutouts and a 0.85 goals against average in all competitions were the best numbers ever by a Barons goalkeeper.
Byron Carmichael – 11
Ryan Richter – 6
William Swetra – 5
Ryan Richter / J.T. Noone – 3
Byron Carmichael – 23
Ryan Richter - 15
On June 20, at home against the Brooklyn Knights, Joe Banks and Byron Carmichael both broke the Barons career minutes played record at the same time. Not only did they both leap frog current assistant coach John Thompson at the top of the list at the same time, but in an incredible coincidence, they finished the game with the exact same number with 5,663. Carmichael would finish the season as the all-time leader (6,224), after Banks (6,097) suffered an injury in the first half against the New Hampshire Phantoms on July 11 and missed the last two games of the season.
Barons celebrate after upsetting Real Maryland | Photo: Bill Pellegrino