OCEAN CITY - Thanks to an early goal by Ocean City Nor'easters soccer midfielder Timi Mulgrew, the announced Fourth of July crowd of 559 at Carey Stadium sat back and relaxed on Thursday.
The Nor'easters had a couple of uneasy moments against the New Jersey Rangers, but won 2-0 to regain first place in the Mid-Atlantic Division of the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League.
Shawn McLaws added the second goal in the second half.
Ocean City goalie Michael O'Keefe made some big saves to record the shutout as the Nor'easters improved to 9-2-1 overall and 7-1-1 in the division for 22 points.
Reading United AC is 6-0-4 and also has 22 points, but Ocean City has the top spot with more wins.
The exciting Mid-Atlantic Division has three others with a shot at the crown, the Long Island Rough Riders (6-1-2, 20 points), the Jersey Express (5-1-5, 20 points), and the Baltimore Bohemians (5-1-4, 19 points).
New Jersey, based in Madison, is 3-6-1 for 10 points.
"I think we had a great atmosphere here on a holiday, and we were fortunate to get the early goal," Ocean City coach Tim Oswald said. "We had to battle through the heat, but then got the second goal. The three points is really big."
Mulgrew was stationed outside the 18-yard line in the fourth minute, but fired a low shot that surprised New Jersey goalie Paul Killian.
"I've been practicing pretty hard on curling the ball, and that's what I did," said Mulgrew, a 20-year-old rising junior at George Mason University. "I was at the right place at the right time. The Lord was on my side and it got in there."
Ocean City's Zoncher Dennis shot from the right side in the 52nd minute and Killian made a good stop, but couldn't control the rebound, which went right out front. McLaws easily booted it in to make it 2-0.
O'Keefe was a 2012 Olympian for New Zealand, and made at least three crucial saves out of a total of seven. He made a charging stop on New Jersey's Jeff McLaughlin in the 27th minute to keep O.C. in the lead. He came up with saves late in the game on Rangers Pedro Vilar and David Cornwell.
O'Keefe, like Mulgrew, is in his first year with the Nor'easters. O'Keefe is a graduate of Fairfield University.
"It was obviously tough out here because it was so hot," said the 22-year-old O'Keefe, of Blenheim, New Zealand. "Everyone did a good job. We had periods of dominance and they had periods of dominance, but we dug deep and overall played very well. It was good to get a clean sheet (shutout) for the second time in a row."
Ocean City played its second straight home game in its solid-orange away uniforms. The Nor'easters beat the Central Jersey Spartans 5-0 on Sunday wearing orange. Oswald said the team just likes to wear them.
Originally, the Nor'easters were scheduled to play the Bermuda Hogges on Thursday, but the Hogges folded last week as a PDL franchise due to insufficient funding.
Each of the Mid-Atlantic's team are scheduling extra games to compensate for the loss of the team. That presents an unusual situation where the Rangers will return to Carey Stadium at 7 p.m. Sunday for another game with Ocean City. The Sunday game was their originally scheduled game. Both games count in the PDL Mid-Atlantic standings.
New Jersey 0 0 - 0
Ocean City 1 1 - 2
Goals-Mulgrew, McLaws OC.
Goalies-Killian (7) NJ. O'Keefe (7) OC.
Records-O.C. 9-2-1, N.J. 3-6-1.