The Nor'easters returned to Ocean City this week with a third place finish in the USASA National Championships to their name after an important weekend in Maryland. After their heroics in the league last season the Nor'easters were placed directly into the semi-finals, representing the PDL against Sonoma Sol of the National Premier Soccer League.
The Nor'easters started their opening game brightly, with Rayon Gibbs and Aaron Dennis troubling the Sol defense early on, with Rayon in particular causing problems with his pace and direct approach as he put in a number of dangerous shots and crosses in the early stages. After the Nor'easters' bright start the game settled into a stalemate for the rest of the half as both defenses dominated and neither keeper was unduly troubled. At half-time Coach Oswald attempted to freshen up the Nor'easters attacking options for the second half with a double change which saw Frank Tweneboa and Gibbs replaced by 'GoGo' Kollie and the hero of the previous game, striker Ben Maurey. These changes made an immediate impact as the Sol defense struggled to deal with the power and physicality of Maurey, with Ben using his 6'6 frame to good effect to win 3 headers in the opposition penalty area in the early exchanges of the second period.
Ben's fellow half-time subsitute then created the Nor'easters best chance of the game, as GoGo beat his man with ease and flashed a dangerous ball across the face of the opposition goal which Aaron Dennis was mere centimeters away from converting at the back post. Bouyed by the changes the Nor'easters were attacking with purpose and looking to get numbers forward as the game opened up and chances began to flow for both teams. Unfortunately it was Sonoma Sol who could take advantage first as Taylor Varnadore ran onto defender Justin Ferrera's pass and finished well to leave Borja Angoitia in the Nor'easters goal with no chance. Despite the goal the Nor'easters still looked dangerous in attack with Kollie in particular consistently beating his man and putting in a series of inviting crosses that the Nor'easters attack were unable to get on the end of. In the 67th minute Sonoma Sol again hit the Nor'easters on the break to kill the game as early substitute Brenton Frame pounced after an unlucky deflection to put Sol 2-0 up. After the goal Sol defended well to see out the game as, despite their best efforts, the Nor'easters were just unable to break them down as they saw out a result that saw them take their place in the final and the Nor'easters move onto the third and fourth place consolation game.
After a day's break a refreshed Nor'easters took to the field on Saturday morning to play NTX Rayados in the third and fourth place playoff game. As in the previous game the first half was a tight affair, with most of the game being played in the middle third as both teams enjoyed spells of possession without troubling the opposition goalkeeper. This pattern lasted until half term as Coach Oswald again made attacking changes to try and freshen up the attack; with Kollie, Junior Chapman, and David Acuna Camacho coming on before the second half. Whilst these changes sparked a change in the Nor'easters attack it was Colin Webb in the Ocean City goal who had more saves to make at the start of the half, with a fingertip save at his far post followed by a series of good punches to clear the Nor'easters lines from crosses. The Nor'easters responded well, as captain Shawn McLaws created their best chance of the game with a low cross fizzed across the penalty which Chapman steered just wide.
After this chance the biggest incident of normal time came in the 70th minute when some pushing and shoving between Camacho and Mikais Etich of the Rayados saw both players sent off. With both teams reduced to ten men the game lost some of it's spark as the clock wound down and we ended normal time in a draw. Due to tournament regulations the game went straight to penalty kicks. In the shootout Webb continued his fine form as he saved the Rayados first and third kicks, allowing Billy McConnell to slot home the winning penalty after Brendan Hines-Ike, Mitch Lurie and Shawn McLaws had all scored theirs.
On the journey home the Nor'easters could reflect on a good weekend's soccer against some of the best teams in the country. Although they didn't bring home the title it was another great opportunity for the team to gel and for Coach Oswald to see how his players could stand up against teams more experienced than themselves. Everyone within the Nor'easters organization would like to thank the US Adult Soccer Association and Arundel High School for hosting the tournament and ensuring players and staff had a great experience.