The Ocean City Nor'easters soccer team has a tradition of success in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament.
They will try to continue it on May 14, when they host the New York Red Bulls' U-23 team in a first-round game at 7:30 p.m. at Ocean City's Carey Stadium.
"Obviously our goal is to win as many games as possible and advance as far as we can," Nor'easters coach Tim Oswald said Wednesday in a phone interview. "We're not going to have a lot of time to prepare, but the nucleus of our team from last year is back and the big-game experience they gained last year should help."
The U.S. Open Cup is the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the country and is celebrating its 100th year in 2013. It's open to all United States Soccer Federation teams. The Nor'easters qualified for by virtue of their outstanding season in 2012 in United Soccer Leagues' Premier Development League.
They posted a 13-3 record while winning the PDL's Eastern Conference Mid-Atlantic Division before suffering a 1-0 loss to the Ottawa Fury in the Eastern Conference semifinals. That marked an impressive turnaround from 2011, when they were 2-6-8.
They are in the Open Cup for the first time since 2009, when they enjoyed a terrific run in the tournament. Then known as the Barons, they defeated Crystal Palace Baltimore and Real Maryland in the first two rounds before getting eliminated 2-0 by D.C. United of Major League Soccer.
The Nor'easters usually fare well in the Open Cup. Their six victories since making their first appearance in 2003 are third-best among PDL teams. Only the Michigan Bucks (12) and Des Moines Menace (7) have more wins. Four of the Nor'easters six wins came against professional teams, which ranks them second among PDL teams behind the Bucks (9).
"Qualifying for the Open Cup has always been one of our main goals," said Nor'easters general manager Neil Holloway, who was the coach during the 2009 run and has been affiliated with the franchise since 2002. "We always want to showcase our players on the biggest stage possible, so we always take it seriously. Maybe not all amateur teams have that same ambition, but we definitely have it. And once you get a taste of that success, you always want more."
Success may be more difficult to achieve this year because of the timing of the tournament.
The Nor'easters game against the Red Barons' U23 team will be its first of the season. Although they have a talented roster with a lot of potential, most of the players are in the process of either taking or preparing for final college exams. They won't be starting their preseason practices until May 8-9, less than a week before they open play in the Open Cup.
"That's the challenging part for us," said Oswald, who is beginning his second season as coach. "We're only going to be able to have a short training camp before it starts."
Former Ocean City High School standout Kevin Curran, who is a senior at Loyola University in Maryland, is the only current player left from the 2009 team. But the Nor'easters return key players from last season such as defender Tapiwa Machingauta (Bradley University), forward Emmanual Kollie (Syracuse) and forward Frank Tweneboa (Mercer County College).
Newcomers include defender Mitchell Taintor (Rutgers), midfielder Nathan Page (Drexel), defender Jordan Murrell (Syracuse) and goalie Michael O'Keeffe (Fairfield). Murrell was captain of the U18 Canadian national team. O'Keeffe is a member of the New Zealand Olympic team.
The Red Bulls' U-23 team, which plays in the National Premier Soccer League, is coached by former MLS player John Wolyniec.
"Based on how well we played last year and the recruiting we were able to do this year, we should have a very good team again," Holloway said. "On paper, we look even stronger than the '09 team that reached the third round (of the Open Cup). But not all of our players will be here for the first game. That puts us at a bit of a disadvantage, but we still hope to do well. We've very excited."
Contact David Weinberg:
New York Red Bulls U-23 at Ocean City Nor'easters
When: 7:30 p.m. May 14
Where: Carey Stadium, Sixth Street and the Boardwalk, Ocean City
Tickets: $10 adults, $7 youth