CHESTER, Pa. - Under normal circumstances, Galloway Township, N.J., resident Matt McCormick is a Philadelphia Union fan.
When he took his seat in section 126 at PPL Park for Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup game, however, both he and his girlfriend, Marina Hackett, were wearing Ocean City Nor'easters jerseys.
"I am a Union fan, but I had to support Ocean City this one time," said McCormick, who plays goalie for Absegami High School's soccer team. "I played for their youth clubs and when I graduate from college (he's headed to Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia), I'm hoping to try out for the Nor'easters. Once I saw they were playing the Union, I knew I had to come and watch them."
McCormick and Hackett, both 18, were among approximately 200 Nor'easters fans who made the trek from South Jersey to watch them barely fall short of an upset victory with a 2-1 loss to the Union.
Ocean City, which lost to D.C. United 2-0 in a 2009 U.S. Open Cup game, was bidding to become just the fourth Premier Development League team to defeat an MLS opponent since 1996.
And the Nor'easters came oh-so close to pulling it off.
Trailing 1-0 for much of the first half, they stunned the Union and their rowdy, drum-banging band of fans when Emmanuel Kollie emerged from a crowd in front of the net and stuffed a shot past Union goalie Zac MacMath with just a few seconds left in regulation to force a 1-1 tie.
The Union recovered in the first two minutes of extra time and posted the win on a goal from midfielder Brian Carroll. The Union advanced to a fourth-round meeting against MLS rival D.C. United on June 12.
"Scoring that goal was the greatest moment of my life," said Kollie, a native of West Africa who moved to Philadelphia in 2005. "I don't live too far from here, so it felt awesome to score a goal in this stadium.
"I thought the whole team played great. I was shivering at first because I was so nervous. I was worried we'd get blown out 5-0 or something. But we proved we can compete at this level."
The Nor'easters, a team comprised of college players, seemed to be a little intimidated by the atmosphere at first. Although the crowd was sparse compared to most MLS games, the Union fans who did show up were plenty loud, especially the group seated behind the goal closest to the Commodore Barry Bridge called the Sons of Ben.
One guy banged a bass drum throughout the game while his friends unleashed a non-stop torrent of chants.
But as the game went on, the Nor'easters' confidence grew. The game was a scoreless tie at intermission and the Union clung to a 1-0 lead on Jack McInerney's goal for most of the second half.
"We made sure to tell the players not to let the environment get the best of you," Nor'easters coach Tim Oswald said. "We were in a big stadium, but it's still 11-on-11. I wanted them to go out and show everyone that we are for real and competitive, and I thought the guys did a great job of doing that."
The Nor'easters fans did their best to show support.
There were plenty of supporters in sections 121 and 126 of PPL Park. McCormick and Hackett were joined in section 126 by more than 100 Ocean City fans, including 68-year-old Ocean City resident Don Smedley and his son, Scott.
"I saw the first two games of the (U.S. Open Cup) and I didn't want to miss this," Smedley said. "It was a great opportunity for the team and I thought they played very well. It was 0-0 at half and you can't ask for much more than that."
Especially against the Union.
Before the game, there was some talk that the Union might rest some of its regular starters and use reserves against the Nor'easters. But Philadelphia coach John Hackworth stuck with his usual lineup, which made the Nor'easters' effort that much more impressive.
"Congrats to Ocean City," Hackworth said. "They were more than a worthy opponent. We never thought this was going to be an easy game. U.S. Open Cup games are usually tough and always seem to go this way. Hats off to Ocean City, but I thought we showed a lot of character tonight."
Ocean City goalie Brian Billings was a major factor, especially in the first 45 minutes.
After the Nor'easters mounted an early surge, the Union began to take charge. They spent most of the last 30 minutes of the first half deep in Nor'easters territory, but Billings was up to the challenge.
He made seven saves in the game, including two spectacular stops in the first half. He made a diving save on a Sheanon Williams shot and punched another one from Keon Daniel over the crossbar.
"Not many of us are going to wind up playing at this level," Billings said. "So we made sure that we grasped the moment as best we could."
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