OCEAN CITY - Last year's 2-6-8 record became a distant memory for the Ocean City Nor'easters on Sunday as they overpowered the Westchester (N.Y.) Flames 5-1 to clinch a playoff spot in the United Soccer Leagues' Premier Development League.
The Nor'easters improved to 12-2 this season for 36 points, and they captured at least one of the two playoff spots in the PDL's Eastern Conference Mid-Atlantic Division. O.C. leads the 10-team division and would clinch a first-round bye in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a win in one of its final two regular-season games.
Tim Oswald took over as coach this year, and the team added several talented new players. Two first-year Nor'easters are Zoncher Dennis, who scored twice Sunday, and Frank Tweneboa, who added three assists.
Kevin Curran and Terry Gibbs, returnees from 2011, scored the first two goals.
"Obviously, it's great to clinch a playoff spot with two games remaining," Oswald said. "This is the first year for our staff and we've had success. I'm proud of the guys for what they've accomplished."
Dennis scored his team-leading 10th and 11th goals of the season early in the second half to make it 4-0.
The Nor'easters made some big plays together early in the game but didn't score until Curran, a former Ocean City High School player, headed one into the left corner in the 33rd minute. Tweneboa sent a pass from the left wing to Curran, who was waiting at the right post.
"We thought Westchester might be a little tired tonight because they played against Reading last night (a 5-1 Reading win Saturday)," Oswald said. "We put a lot of pressure on early and had a lot of chances. Finally, we got a lot of goals."
Gibbs scored a crucial one in stoppage time in the first half, with seconds remaining before intermission. He took a pass from Emmanuel Kollie, turned around quickly and blasted one high into the left corner from 25 yards away.
"It's fantastic to make the playoffs, a great accomplishment," said Gibbs, 24, of London. "We have a lot of depth this year and it's not easy to be a starter. I've never been in the playoffs here before."
Westchester (1-11-2) was out-finessed by Ocean City but stayed right in it most of the first half. The Flames avoided a shutout in the 69th minute as Raphael DeSouza scored his first goal of the season.
"We have a young team and the kids have had some injuries," Westchester coach Gus Skoufis said. "Their second goal was the turning point. Ocean City is a good organization. I wish them well."
Dennis' goals both were set up by Tweneboa. Dennis, a junior at Mount St. Mary's College (Md.), made it 3-0 in the 49th minute as he fired a low shot from 10 yards out past goalie Ronald Bonilla. Dennis scored again eight minutes later from the left side just inside the 18-yard line.
"We started slow tonight, but once we got going, it was a good game by everybody," said Dennis, 20, from Ivory Coast. "Frank sent me awesome passes."
Ocean City's Alex Weidman, a former Mainland Regional player, entered the game with about 10 minutes left, and he scored in second-half stoppage time. Scott Davis assisted.
O.C. goalie Tyler Miller made two saves, and defender Max Tassano had a header save right in front late in the game.
Ocean City travels to Reading United AC, one of the two teams that beat the Nor'easters, on Friday at 7 p.m. at Albright College (Pa.). The Nor'easters finish up the regular season at 7 p.m. Sunday at home against the Brooklyn Knights at Carey Stadium.
Contact Guy Gargan:
Westchester 0 1-1
Ocean City 2 3-5
Goals-DeSouza W. Dennis (2), Curran, Gibbs, Weidman OC.
Goalies-Bonilla (6) W. Miller (2) OC.
Records-O.C. 12-2; Westchester 1-11-2.