USL Review: Ocean City Alums Shine at the Next Level
13 Nor'easters played in the USL this season
The Ocean City Nor’easters have seen a number of players take their game to the next level to make professional careers out of the game that they love. During the 2015 season, 13 Ocean City alums were playing in the United Soccer Leagues, and many of them made major contributions. In all, those 13 players played in 191 games, logging 12,543 minutes, scoring 26 goals and dishing out 12 assists.
Here is our annual report of our Ocean City Nor’easters in the Pros, USL edition:
Aaron Dennis, Photo: Arizona United
Aaron Dennis, who played for the Nor’easters in 2014, signed with Arizona United mid-season, joining the club in July. While only playing in seven games (357 minutes played), he made an impact during his brief time with the club.
He didn’t waste much time in making an impact as Dennis was named man of the match in his first home game on Aug. 15 against Orange County Blues and then scoring his first professional goal a week later in a 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps. Arizona finished with a 10-16-2 record, falling 10 points shy of the final Western Conference playoff spot.
As an East Coast kid, it was a big transition going to play soccer in a place where it tops 100 degrees on a regular basis during the summer.
“It was different,” said Dennis, who grew up in New York and went to college at Villanova. “Playing in 100 degree weather was definitely not ideal but I made the most of the situation.”
After making an impression with Arizona United, Dennis says he has a lot of work to do in the offseason to continue to get better.
“I want to get stronger, work on all aspects of my game and prepare myself for next season.”
Dennis said that his time with the Nor’easters helped prepare him for the next level.
“There were so many great players on that team and that made every practice competitive,” said Dennis about his time with the club. “Everyone wanted to make the 18 so you had to perform every day.”
Ryan Finley, Photo: Reckless Challenge
Ryan Finley (Ocean City, 2008), who has had a nice start to his professional career since graduating from Notre Dame in 2012. He spent time with the Columbus Crew and Chivas USA of Major League Soccer (MLS) but this year, he spent a full season with the Charlotte Independence, who were an expansion team this year. He scored eight goals and one assist in 23 games (1,190 minutes played) as the Independence nearly qualified for the playoffs, falling shot by a single point with a 10-8-10 record.
Finley also helped the Independence make history in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Charlotte were the only USL team (and one of two lower division teams) to reach the Fifth Round of the tournament. They were just the second team in the city of Charlotte to advance beyond the Fourth Round and Finley played a big role. In Round 3, he scored an 81st minute game-winning goal to give the expansion side a surprising 1-0 road win over the NASL’s Carolina RailHawks. The following round, he came off the bench to help secure a 1-0 upset win on the road against the New England Revolution of MLS. The run would come to an end with a 3-1 road loss to the Chicago Fire, but the team was awarded the $15,000 prize as the Third Division team that advanced the furthest in the tournament.
Harrisburg City Islanders
The City Islanders signed two recent Ocean City alums and both had a major impact on the club in their first professional seasons. On top of that, the third Ocean City alum they signed late in the campaign happens to have the most accomplished professional resume of any player that ever played for the Nor’easters.
Jason Plumhoff, Photo: Harrisburg City Islanders
Jason Plumhoff, who played for Ocean City in 2012 and 2014, likely would have been a USL Rookie of the Year finalist, but unfortunately for him, there can only be one nominee per team, and teammate Ken Tribbett (Ocean City, 2013) was the selection. Both players had tremendous rookie seasons with Plumhoff leading the team in scoring with 10 goals and six assists in 23 games. Tribbett, a defender, was the only player on the roster who played in all 28 games, while also scoring three goals.
What was the key to Plumhoff’s success this year?
“I didn’t get hung up in the lows we had as a team,” said Plumhoff about the 2015 season. “We had a lot of things go against us this season. Losing games late in extra time, for example against Pittsburgh, we were up 3-0 at the half and ended up losing 6-5 after getting scored on three times in stoppage time. So I would say just being focused throughout a lots of ups and downs was key.”
On the other side of the ball, Tribbett was able to step in and play right away, but the journey to get there was anything but easy.
“My first season as a pro was everything I could have asked for,” said Tribbett, who played his college ball at Drexel University. “I was able to start and play right away on a competitive team. My teammates and coaches were a pleasure to be around for the whole year. I've always wanted to be a pro and it was just what I was expecting.”
Ken Tribbett, Photo: Harrisburg City Islanders
Tribbett’s path to the pros was far from easy. Following the success of the 2013 Eastern Conference championship season, Ken was told by multiple MLS teams that they were expecting to select him in the MLS Draft, but he went unselected. After attending the USL combine, he felt like he performed well, but was unable to sign with a team. He had trials with four different USL clubs, and still, they passed, including Harrisburg. However, during the preseason, the staff with the Nor’easters reached out to the City Islanders and he was given another chance. Harrisburg was short on defenders, so it was a case of right place-right time and Tribbett signed to play on City Island for the 2015 season.
Aside from signing his first pro contact, Tribbett’s most memorable moment was when they team traveled down to North Carolina to take on the Wilmington Hammerheads. The City Islanders only had two field players on the bench and despite being shorthanded, Tribbett scored his first two professional goals (both off corner kicks) in a surprising 4-0 victory.
Toward the end of the season, Harrisburg was looking to add some new players after the club had suffered a series of injuries. They contacted Philadelphia native Tony Donatelli, who was coaching as well as playing indoor soccer in Baltimore. Donatelli, who was part of Ocean City’s undefeated 2004 team and the 2005 team that made a run to the Third Round of the US Open Cup, was happy to play pro soccer a little closer to home.
“Of course it has been great to make my way to teams that are closer to home,” said Donatelli, who still ranks fifth on Ocean City’s all-time scoring list (14 goals, 9 assists). “The support of friends and family who are now able to come watch my games is really special and means a lot to me.”
Tony Donatelli, Photo: Montreal Impact
Donatelli, a Temple University graduate, has more championships on his resume than any player to ever put on an Ocean City jersey. He won a USL titles with the Vancouver Whitecaps (2006), the Montreal Impact (2009) and the Charleston Battery (2012) and a pair of indoor soccer championships with the now-defunct Philadelphia Kixx (2006-07) and the Baltimore Blast (2011-12).
“Approaching my 11th season as a professional, I am extremely proud of the career I’ve had up to this point,” said Donatelli, who played three games for the City Islanders this season. “Not only for being fortunate enough to have won five championships with some of the best clubs across North America, but also for being able to call so many great cities home.”
Despite having outstanding individual rookie campaigns, it was difficult for the team to fall just short of the postseason.
“The season as a whole is very disappointing,” added Plumhoff, who graduated from La Salle University. “We missed the playoffs by two points, which reflected the entire season. We came up short too many times.”
After the USL season, Plumhoff trained with MLS clubs, Chicago Fire and Philadelphia Union and is focusing on resting up during the offseason to be ready for 2016.
Tribbett aslo trained with the Philadelphia Union and is going to spend the offseason staying fit and preparing to make another run at earning a MLS contract.
Donatelli is back in Baltimore as he just kicked off his fourth season of playing indoor soccer with the Blast who won their season opener.
New York Red Bulls II
Shawn McLaws, Photo: New York Red Bulls
After two seasons in Ocean City (2013-14), Shawn McLaws, the Nor'easters 2014 Captain, was drafted by the New York Red Bulls in the MLS SuperDraft. In an effort to get regular playing time, he was loaned to the New York Red Bulls II of the USL. He made the most of his opportunity, playing in 21 games and finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (1,837). He scored a goal and an assist in his first season in the pros.
“My rookie season was a chance to live my childhood dream and have the opportunity to transition into the professional ranks,” said McLaws.
With McLaws holding down the backline, the Red Bulls II reached the league semifinals, falling to the Rochester Rhinos who went on to win the USL championship.
One of the highlights was a game that didn’t count in the standings. He was called up to play for the Red Bulls in an exhibition game against one of the biggest clubs in the world.
“The highlight of my season was definitely having the opportunity to play against Chelsea,” said McLaws, who started the game and played 71 minutes. “Going up against the likes of Hazard and other Premier League players was something I will never forget but very motivating at the same time.”
McLaws, playing with what was considered by many in the media as a Red Bulls “B” team, stunned the Premier League champions 4-2.
Leon Brown, Photo: Real Monarchs
The Nor’easters have a pair of alums playing for the Real Monarchs, Real Salt Lake’s USL club out in Utah. Leon Brown, who was part of the 2014 side, and Jordan Murrell from the 2013 team.
Murrell, who graduated from Syracuse and spent time as a Canadian youth international, played in 17 games (1,173 minutes played) and dished out one assist in his first season as a pro.
Jordan Murrell, Photo: Austin Aztex
“My rookie season was a great learning experience,” said Murrell. “I couldn’t have asked for much more because I was learning new things everyday inside and outside of football.”
Unfortunately for Brown, the former Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward suffered an accidental collision during practice and suffered a knee injury that limited him to just nine games (100 minutes).
“It was definitely a tough year for me, having not played much when I was healthy then missing pretty much the second half of the season due to injury made it a lot worse,” said Brown. “I learned a lot during the year though about what I'm good at and what I need to work on to be a better player, so I will take those things and try to improve as best as I can.”
Both players used the PDL to hone their skills during the summer to earn a spot in the USL and are hoping some hard work in the offseason will help them continue to improve for next season.
“The Nor'easters and PDL helped prepare me for the next level because I think a lot of the guys in the league were aspiring to play professionally so the competition was strong,” said Murrell.
Timi Mulgrew, Photo: Rochester Rhinos
One of the great stories of the 2015 season in any professional league was the Rochester Rhinos. The Rhinos have been a force in USL soccer for nearly two decades, winning multiple league titles as well as winning the 1999 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup title. Despite that resume, the Rhinos had their greatest season in club history and two former Ocean City players played a big role.
Timi Mulgrew, member of the Nor'easters' 2013 Eastern Conference Championship team, earned a contract with the New England Revolution (MLS) and was loaned to the Rhinos in an effort to get him more playing time in his first professional season. He played in 15 games this year for Rochester, logging 405 minutes.
Nate Bourdeau, midfielder on the 2012 Nor'easters squad, signed with the hometown Silver Knights of the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) after graduating from Rutgers University. He scored seven goals and had five assists for the Knights in his first season last year which kept him on the radar of nearby Rochester. Late in the season, Christian Silva and New England Revolution loanee Tyler Rudy suffered season-ending injuries, so the Rhinos signed Bourdeau right before the roster freeze deadline.
Bourdeau didn’t waste any time in making an impact. On Sept. 16, in a game on the road against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, the Rhinos’ had only lost once to that point and were trailing 1-0 late in the game. Bourdeau came off the bench to make his Rochester debut and moments later, assisted on the game-tying goal in the 82nd minute. He added depth to the Rhinos’ push to the playoffs and helping them win the USL regular season and playoff championships. Bourdeau only played in three regular season games and came off the bench in the USL Final and helped Rochester beat the LA Galaxy II 2-1 in extra time to lift the trophy.
Saint Louis FC
Nick Bibbs, Photo: Saint Louis FC
Nick Bibbs was another Ocean City alum (2012) who had a tough season after he was bitten by the injury bug twice. Bibbs, who played college soccer at Syracuse, had a bad MCL sprain early in the season and then once he was back to 100 percent, he suffered a heel injury late in the season that forced him to miss even more time.
One highlight for a difficult season for Bibbs was returning from the MCL injury and scoring a goal in his first start in a 1-0 win over Toronto. In the end, he played in 13 games and logged 510 minutes for the expansion team that finished 8-11-9 and were eight points short of a playoff spot.
“It has been a tough year with injuries,” said Bibbs. “It's hard to stay positive and watching games every weekend being injured especially if results aren't going your way. Also, St. Louis is a huge soccer city. We had an unbelievable fan base and sold out most of our home games, so having the expectation from them and not winning was tough.”
After college, Bibbs went overseas to play for IFK Lammhult in Sweden, but ended up coming back to train with the Philadelphia Union before signing with Saint Louis.
“Playing overseas was a great experience but just thought with my style of play I might be able to succeed more back home in the states,” said Bibbs.
Bibbs is focusing on getting healthy again with the expectation of getting through a full professional season without any setbacks.
Seattle Sounders II
Tyler Miller, Photo: Seattle Sounders
Tyler Miller, who played in Ocean City in 2012, came into his first professional season with high hopes. After four years at Northwestern University, Miller was drafted in the second round of the MLS SuperDraft. He had a brief stop with SVN Zweibrücken in the German Fourth Division, he returned to the U.S. and signed with the USL’s Sounders 2.
Miller also got some additional experience as he earned his second cap, and his first career start, for the United States Under-23 National Team. He made his debut on June 2 in a 1-0 win against Qatar in the Toulon Tournament, in which the U.S. finished third.
“Germany was a learning experience,” said Miller, who finished his college career as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in shutouts (36). “I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was able to get some good experience playing a foreign league, as well as two opportunities with the Under-23 national team while over there. Coming back to the sounders was just the right move for the development of my career.”
With all that momentum going his way with the outstanding college career, foreign experience, and then international experience, he had a stroke of bad luck. After pitching a shutout in his first career USL start (a 4-0 win over Arizona United), he tore a ligament in his thumb in training and was out for the rest of the season. ever made another appearance for the team.
“It's been a learning experience and definitely a year of maturity,” said Miller. “There have been a lot of ups and downs but I've stayed determined and fought through them.”
Steven Miller, Photo: Tulsa Roughnecks
Steven Miller, who played three seasons for Ocean City (2008-09, 2011) played last season for the Tulsa Roughnecks and was a big part of the team’s 2015 campaign. Miller has traveled around considerably over the last few years. After graduating from Colgate University, Miller was selected in the MLS Supplemental Draft by the Montreal Impact. He eventually signed with Jammerbugt FC in Denmark before returning stateside to play for the USL’s Wilmington Hammerheads during the 2014 season.
This year was a change of scenery as Miller signed with the Tulsa Roughnecks who were a USL expansion side.
“My first season in Tulsa was an amazing experience,” said Miller, who scored eight goals and had five assists in his three seasons with the Nor’easters. “Being able to play for an expansion club in a city with a rich soccer history was incredibly rewarding. The fans and the community were so supportive, and ONEOK Field made for a great venue to play at in front of the Roustabouts and other supporters.”
One surprising development was the transition for Miller moving from forward, as Ocean City fans were used to seeing, to outside back. Even in more of a defensive position he still found a way on to the scoresheet, scoring three goals and dishing out two assists in 28 games. He was also second on the team in minutes played with 2,125. His performance earned him a loan deal as he was shipped back to North Carolina, this time to play the Carolina RailHawks of the NASL. He played in five games for Carolina.
“The highlight of the season had to be defeating our in-state rivals Oklahoma City Energy in the last game of the season,” said Miller. “We took down the then number one team in the Western Conference at ONEOK Field in front of one of our biggest crowds of the year. It was an incredible back and forth game and a great way to end the season and leave the fans excited for the 2016 season.”
Miller credits his time at the Jersey Shore for helping develop his game during his college years at Colgate.
“Playing for Ocean City did a great job preparing me for my college seasons,” said Miller. “It allowed me to enter my college preseason as fit and sharp as possible, which was my initial reason for playing PDL. Additionally, Ocean City provided me with a professional environment where I was able to train with and play against very talented players. A lot of the players in the league have aspirations of playing professionally, and playing with and against these players on a regular basis not only made me a better and more consistent player, but also reinforced my belief that I would be able to play at the next level.”
2016 Season ticket package information will be released in the coming weeks and in time to purchase for the holiday season. For more information, call (609) 432-8271 to speak with a Nor'easters ticket representative, email us at email@example.com, or visit www.oceancityfc.com/tickets.
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