Ocean City Nor'easters soccer coach Tim Oswald thought today's USL Premier Development League Eastern Conference semifinal was so important that he and assistant Kevin Nuss drove more than 1,000 miles round trip to scout their opponent.

Oswald and Nuss drove to Ontario and saw the Ottawa Fury, today's opponent, beat GPS Portland Phoenix 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday.

The Nor'easters will play Ottawa at 4 p.m. today in a conference semifinal at Macpherson Stadium in Greensboro, N.C.

If Ocean City wins, it will play for the conference championship at 6 p.m. Sunday at the same site against the winner of today's 7 p.m. semifinal game between Reading United AC and host Carolina Dynamo.

"(Ottawa) is a quality team and we'll have to be ready and prepared in order to get the result," Oswald said. "They have a lot of talent. I'm a big believer in scouting teams in person because it's better than watching them on film. That's something that's benefited our PDL team, and I do that in college (as the coach of the Rutgers-Camden University men's team)."

Ocean City is 13-3, having won the PDL Mid-Atlantic Division. The Nor'easters' 39 points were the most in the Eastern Conference, giving the team a bye into the semifinals. Ottawa's win over GPS Portland Phoenix was a quarterfinal game.

"Ottawa was a talented team with a lot of international players," Nuss said. "There's not much difference between good teams, but you have to try to find the difference."

The Nor'easters had not reached the PDL playoffs since 2009, when they were known as the Ocean City Barons.

Oswald took over this year with the Nor'easters coming off a 2-6-8 season. The team brought in several new players, including Zoncher Dennis, who leads the team with 11 goals. Frank Tweneboa, another new player, has four goals and five assists. Markhus Lacroix and Terry Gibbs each have three goals. Goalie John McCarthy has five shutouts.

Two of Ocean City's losses were to Reading United AC, a team Ocean City would meet again if both make Sunday's final. O.C. lost to Reading 2-0 last Friday but clinched the conference's best mark on Sunday with a 1-0 win over the Brooklyn Knights in the regular-season finale. Lacroix scored in the 79th minute.

Gibbs, a Nor'easters captain, joined the team in 2010. With the two coaches scouting in Canada, the job of conducting Tuesday'S practice was left to him.

"I'm a little nervous (about the semifinal game), but excited," said Gibbs, 24, who is from London. "I was relieved to win the division. It was one of the highlights of my career. It was touch and go after the loss (last) Friday, but we won on Sunday. Hopefully we'll win our games and see ourselves on TV soon enough."

Ottawa was 10-3-3 in the regular season (33 points), winning the conference's Northeast Division. William Beauge scored eight goals to lead the Fury in the regular season, and he scored another in overtime Tuesday to help his team to the win. Carlo Basso had seven regular-season goals, and goalie Nils Carlson had six shutouts.

The 73-team PDL has four conferences, and champions will be determined in each conference this weekend. Two national semifinal games will be held next weekend at two host locations to be determined. The PDL championship game will be held Saturday, Aug. 4 at the home of one of the semifinal winners.

Contact Guy Gargan:

609-272-7210