Nor'easters lose, but hold their own, against European power SL Benfica in friendly

Reigning Portugese champions defeat Ocean City 5-0 at Rutgers University in preparation for Benfica's International Champions Cup

Nor'easters lose, but hold their own, against European power SL Benfica in friendly

On Sunday, July 21, the Ocean City Nor'easters received a phone call. The Portugese powerhouse SL Benfica, who is taking part in the 2019 International Champions Cup, was looking for a club to play against in a friendly on Monday night.

The Nor'easters were more than happy to take them up on their short-notice offer.

Gustavo Fernndes of the Ocean City Nor'easters challenges for the ball against Portugese international Rafa Silva of SL Benfica during an exhibition game on July 23, 2019 at Rutgers University's Yurcak Field. Photo: SL Benfica

With the USL League Two season already finished, most of the Nor'easters players had already traveled back home to get ready for their upcoming fall semesters and to enjoy the last few weeks of their summer vacation.

The club gathered up as many players from the 2019 roster as they could, invited some guest players, and made their way north to Rutgers University's Yurcak Field to face the reigning Portugese Primeira Liga champions in an exhibition game.

The game ended up being moved to Tuesday, July 23, and the Nor'easters held their own against Benfica, but Ocean City would lose the friendly by the score of 5-0.

"Our boys showed a great effort, and for portions of the game we held our own," said Nor'easters head coach and sporting director Kevin Nuss. "Obviously, Benfica is top club and have some world class players but we looked to play them straight up."

Benfica played most of their first team squad while playing two different teams of 11 for each half. The goals were scored by Raul de Tomas, who recently signed with the club a few weeks ago from Real Madrid, Jota, who was the top scorer at the Under-19 UEFA European Championship in 2018, Portuguese youth international Florentino Ruis, Brazilian midfielder Gabriel, and Serbian international Andrija Zivkovic.

"It continues to show that the hard work that the club has put in has built such a strong reputation that when a club like Benfica is looking for a friendly, they reach out to us," Nuss added. "We pride ourselves on giving our players the opportunity to play against top-notch talent every summer, and one of the biggest clubs in the world certainly fits that bill. We were very excited about the opportunity."
Dan Cordeiro of the Ocean City Nor'easters tackles the ball away from Serbian international Ljubomir Fejsa of SL Benfica during an exhibition game on July 23, 2019 at Rutgers University's Yurcak Field. Photo: SL Benfica

Among the Nor'easters players who took part in the game, eight of them were on the 2019 USL League Two roster, including the league's co-leading scorer Deri Corfe (Wright State / Chester, England) who was in the starting lineup along with Matteo Bennati (Ohio State / Genova, Italy), Ocean City's leading assist man Brandon Smalley (Florida Tech / Bridlington, England) and Ryan Inman (High Point / Birmingham, England). Smalley and Inman, who both started in the midfield, are one of just four players who played in every single league game for the Nor'easters this past season.

Starting on the backline was Gustavo Fernandes (Stong Brook / West Babylon, NY), who started 10 of the 12 games he played this season, and Daniel Kozma (Grand View / Budapest, Hungary), who was Ocean City's 2017 team MVP. Both players played 90 minutes. Marco Torino (Saint Peter's / Rome, Italy) came off the bench and played well, created a really good scoring chance, that forced a big save from the Benfica goalkeeper.

Starting in goal was Nor'easters assistant coach and goalkeeping specialist Matt Perrella (Rider / North Brunswick, NJ). Perrella, a current assistant coach of the women’s soccer program at Drexel University played professionally in both indoor (Harrisburg Heat, Syracuse Silver Knights) and outdoor soccer (Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Jacksonville Armada, Bethlehem Steel, North Carolina FC) during his playing career, that began in England back in 2014 where he played for the Newcastle United reserves team. Last year, Perrella suited up for Atlantic City FC in the National Premier Soccer League and was named the 2018 Keystone Conference goalkeeper of the year.

In addition to starting in goal, Perrella also played a big role in making the game happen.

Deri Corfe of the Ocean City Nor'easters battles for the ball with Gabriel of SL Benfica during an exhibition game on July 23, 2019 at Rutgers University's Yurcak Field. Photo: SL Benfica
"From my own personal relationships in the soccer community I received a call to get a team together to play against them. It was totally out of the blue but I accepted the challenge immediately and started making calls to see what Nor'easters players were still available," said Perrella. "For me, its always nice to test myself and challenge my ability and as a competitor you want these opportunities. To work with the Nor'easters and play under their banner was a great for the organization and I was happy they were on board and willing to allow me to construct a roster of players from other squads. I'm confident we left a positive impression and other opportunities will come with this showing."

Perrella was replaced by Jan Hoffelner (St. John's / Frankfurt, Germany) midway through the second half. Hoffelner, last year's NPSL goalkeeper of the Year with Duluth FC, made history in 2019 as the first goalkeeper in Nor'easters history to play every single minute of the season.

The team used a variety of guest players to fill out the rest of the gameday roster (guest players in bold)

Goalkeeper: Matt Perrella
Defender: Marcello Borges (Michigan / Kearny, NJ - Prev. club: Atlantic City FC)
Defender: Gustavo Fernandes
Defender: Daniel Kozma
Defender: Marcus Hackett (William Paterson / Montclair, NJ - Previous club: FC Motown)
Midfielder: Ryan Inman
Midfielder: Brandon Smalley
Midfielder: Matt Nigro (John Carroll / Strongsville, OH - Prev. club: FC Motown)
Forward: Deri Corfe
Forward: Joe Fala (Ramapo / Cape May Court House, NJ)
Forward: Matteo Bennati

GK: Jan Hoffelner
Defender: Marco Torino
Midfielder: Dan Vicente (Georgian Court / Kearny, NJ - Prev. club: Atlantic City FC)
Midfielder: Dan Cordeiro (NJIT / North Arlington, NJ - Prev. club: FC Motown)
Midfielder: Kenan Hot (New York Red Bulls Academy / Lincroft, NJ - U-15 National Team)
Forward: Gerald Cubero (NJIT / Bound Brook, NJ - Prev. club: New Jersey Copa FC
Forward: Brian Saramago (Loyola Maryland / New Hyde Park, NY - Prev. club: NY Red Bulls U-23s)
Forward: Eddy Enowbi (East Stroudsburg / Silver Spring, MD - Prev. club: Lehigh Valley United)

Here are the highlights from the game:

The day after they faced the Nor'easters, Benfica would move on to play their next International Champions Cup match against Fiorentina from the Italian Serie A at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Benfica won the game 2-1 with a stoppage time winner from Caio.

Tiago Dantes of SL Benfica plays the ball as Marcelo Borges (left) and Ryan Inman (right) of the Ocean City Nor'easters look on during an exhibition game on July 23, 2019 at Rutgers University's Yurcak Field. Photo: SL Benfica

Benfica, who has more Portugese Primeira Liga championships (37) than any other club, and as won five of the last six league titles, began the International Champions Cup tournament back on July 20 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. with a 3-0 win over Chivas de Guadalajara. Next up, they will take on AC Milan on July 28 in Foxborough, Mass.

The Nor'easters wrapped up their 2019 USL League Two season last week, finishing in second place in the Mid-Atlantic Division with a 6-3-5 record. Ocean City finished the season riding a six-game unbeaten streak, but fell just short of qualifying for the playoffs.

Since the club was founded in 1997, Ocean City has been one of the most successful minor league soccer teams in North America over the last 23 seasons. Since joining USL League Two in 2003, they have the seventh-most wins (145) of any USL League Two team, have the sixth-best overall record (145-68-49), and have the fourth-best home record (81-26-25). The Nor'easters have also had more than 80 former players move on to play the game of soccer at the professional level in 20 different countries and Hong Kong.

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