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Preview: Nor'easters open playoffs Saturday vs. Boston Bolts in Virginia

Winner will play either West Chester United or New York Red Bulls U-23s in Sunday's semifinal

Preview: Nor'easters open playoffs Saturday vs. Boston Bolts in Virginia

The Ocean City Nor'easters will open the club's first USL League Two playoff run since 2016 on Saturday night at the Evergreen Sportsplex in Leesburg, Va. The Nor'easters will take on the Boston Bolts, the second place team from the Northeast Division.

Ocean City (9-2-3) enters the eight-team Eastern Conference playoff as the No. 5 seed and will take on the Boston Bolts (10-3-0) who are the No. 4 seed. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Fans unable to make the trip to Northern Virginia can watch a live video stream of the match produced by the host Northern Virginia FC. Click here to watch the match.

The winner of Friday's game will advance to the conference semifinals against the winner of top seed West Chester United and No. 8 seed New York Red Bulls U-23s, the third place team from the Metropolitan Division. That game will kickoff Saturday at 5 p.m.

While the Nor'easters are one of the most successful clubs in USL League Two history, Ocean City are seeking the club's first league championship. The Storm finished the regular season with 154 wins, which ranks 7th all-time in league history, despite the fact that Ocean City joined the league in 2003 (eight years after it launched in 1995). Since joining the league in 2003, the Nor'easters have the fifth best overall record (just one point behind fourth place Reading United AC) and the fourth best home record.

The Nor'easters have won two Eastern Conference championships (2013, 2016) and have made two appearances in the USL League Two national semifinals. The last time Ocean City qualified for the postseason, they defeated three division champs (including rival Reading United AC) en route to winning the Eastern Conference title. The Storm would host their national semifinal match vs. Calgary Foothills FC, but would fall, 3-0.

This year, the Nor'easters, under first-year head coach Alan McCann, won nine games for the fourth time in the last five years. The Storm started the season with an eight-game unbeaten streak (5-0-3), as well as an exhibition win over Philadelphia Union 2, before losing their first game on June 23. Ocean City won four of their last five games to close out the season, outscoring their opponents 20-4 during that span.

McCann is seeking to reach the league championship game for the third year in a row, something that only one head coach in league history has done (Israel Collazo, Laredo Heat, 2006-08). He led Reading United AC to the USL League Two title game in each of the last two seasons.

The Nor'easters scored 40 goals in 14 league games (2.86 goals per game), the best offensive season since the 2005 campaign. Defensively, they were also exceptional, allowing just 12 goals in 14 matches, including tying the club single-season record for clean sheets with seven. The 12 goals allowed and the team's 0.86 goals against average were also a single-season club record for a 14-game schedule.

One of the most telling stats to highlight Ocean City's impressive defense was the fact that the Nor'easter goalkeepers (Jahmali Waite, Yannik Oettl, Owen Elliott, Michael Webber) only had to make 23 saves throughout the season's 14 games, which shattered the club record for fewest saves in a season. The previous record of 39 was held by the 2016 team featuring Logan Ketterer, Michael Kirk and Andrew Garcia.

This year, the Boston Bolts have qualified for the playoffs for the first time in the club's five-year history by finishing in second place in the Northeast Division. In each of the last four years, the Bolts finished in fourth place in the division.

The club began as FC Boston in 2016, and later rebranded as the Boston Bolts ahead of the 2019 season. That year, they finished with a 5-7-2 record in the very competitive Northeast Division. This year, the Bolts had the club's best season yet, finishing with a 10-3-0 record. Only six other teams in the entire league finished with 10 or more wins this season.

They finished the season strong with three straight wins. They defeated fellow playoff qualifier Seacoast United Phantoms on the road before closing the season at home with back-to-back wins over Black Rock FC (3-1) and AC Connecticut (3-0).

The player to watch, without question, is Boston's leading scorer Tyler Bagley (Cornell University), who scored 12 goals in 12 games, while averaging 60 minutes played per game. Bagley finished the regular season as the league's second leading scorer. No one on the team has more than two goals. 

Their main goalkeeper for the 2021 season was James Swomley (Brown University) who played in 10 of the team's 14 games, finishing with a 1.37 goals against average, according to the league website.

This will be the first-ever meeting between the Nor'easters and the Bolts.

The first two rounds are being hosted by Northern Virginia FC at the Evergreen Sportsplex in Leesburg, Va.

The two winners will face off on Sunday night in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

The other four Eastern Conference playoff teams will be in Ludlow, Mass. this weekend. The host, and Northeast Division champion Western Mass Pioneers (No. 2 seed) will take on Metropolitan Division runner-up Cedar Stars Rush (No. 6 seed) while the Metropolitan Division champion Long Island Rough Riders (No. 3 seed) will take on Seacoast United Phantoms (No. 7 seed).

The two teams that emerge from this weekend's two playoff sites will square off in the Eastern Conference Final the following weekend (July 23-25) at a venue to be determined. That same venue will also host the Southern Conference championship game and the national semifinal between the winner of the Eastern Final and the Southern Final.

The USL League Two championship game will be held on Saturday, July 31 at a venue that is yet to be determined.

The rest of the 2021 USL League Two playoff schedule information can be found on the league website.

2021 Eastern Conference Playoffs

Quarterfinals #1 (Ludlow, Mass.)
Friday, July 16, 2021

#2 Western Mass Pioneers vs. #6 Cedar Stars Rush
#3 Long Island Rough Riders vs. #7 Seacoast United Phantoms

Quarterfinals #2 (Leesburg, Va.)
Saturday, July 17, 2021
#1 West Chester United vs. #8 New York Red Bulls U-23s - 5 p.m.

#5 Ocean City Nor'easters vs. #4 Boston Bolts - 7:30 p.m.

Semifinals #1 (Ludlow, Mass.)
Saturday, July 17 - 7 p.m.

Western Mass/Cedar Stars vs. Long Island/Seacoast

Semifinals #2 (Leesburg, Va.)
Sunday, July 18 - 7:30 p.m.

Ocean City/Boston vs. West Chester/NYRB

Eastern Conference Final / National Semifinal (Venue TBA)
July 23-25, 2021

USL League Two Final (Venue TBA)
July 31, 2021

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