2021 Season Review: Nor'easters return to playoffs with record-setting offense, defense
Alan McCann's first season in Ocean City sees the club return to the postseason for the first time since 2016
The 2021 USL League Two (USL2) season was supposed to be a milestone 25th campaign for the Ocean City Nor'easters. But after the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 campaign was a big season of change for the Nor'easters. While it was the 25th anniversary of the club's founding in 1997, it turned out to be Ocean City's 24th season (18th as a member of USL League Two) and it began with a new head coach and a brand new roster of players. The standards were high, but it was hard to predict what the results would be.
|Ulrik Edvardsen (left) and Gilbert Waso celebrates Ulrik's equalizing goal against West Chester United at Carey Stadium on May 23, 2021. Photo: Jack Verdeur|
Head coach Alan McCann delivered on his goal of getting the Nor'easters back in the playoffs, but ultimately the Storm fell short, dropping a narrow 1-0 decision to West Chester United in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. McCann came to Ocean City from rival Reading United AC where he was the two-time reigning USL League Two Coach of the Year. He came to Ocean City and continued his tradition of recruiting elite level talent and winning games.
In 2021, the Nor'easters finished with a 9-2-3 record, the club's best regular season record since 2013. Ocean City finished in second place in the Mid-Atlantic Division for the second year in a row. However, unlike in 2019's playoff format, a second place finish was good enough for the Storm to make the playoffs for the first time since the club's Eastern Conference championship season in 2016.
The Nor'easters did it by making some history along the way on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the 2021 team scored 40 goals, the second most in the league, and the most by an Ocean City team since 2005. On the defensive side, it was one of the best back lines in club history, allowing just 12 goals in 14 regular season games with a 0.86 team goals against average. Both were records for a 14-game season. Another defensive accomplishment was eight clean sheets across all competitions, the second-most in club history.
The leader on defense was Neville Morgan (Lindsey Wilson / Westmoreland, Jamaica) who was not only named the Nor'easters' team MVP but also the Defensive Player of the Year. Morgan led the team in minutes played and becomes the second player in club history to win both of those team awards in the same season, joining Shawn McLaws (Coastal Carolina) from the 2014 team.
|2021 Nor'easter Essentials|
|2021 record: 9-2-3
Home: 4-2-2 | Away: 5-0-1
Playoffs: 1-1-0 (Eastern Semis)
40 goals scored | 12 goals allowed
Mid-Atlantic Division: 2nd place
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Simon Becher - 11 goals (22 pts.)
Theo Quartey - 4 goals, 6 assists (14 pts.)
Austin DaSilva - 5 goals, 3 assists (13 pts.)
Tyler Watson - 3 goals, 2 assists (8 pts.)
Kyle Galloway - 3 goals, 1 assist (7 pts.)
Leading the offense was Simon Becher (St. Louis Univ. / Brooklyn, CT) who was the club's leading scorer with 12 goals (including the playoffs). Of those 12 goals, six of them were game-winners which was the most of any player in USL League Two and made him an easy choice as Offensive Player of the Year. Becher was also named to the USL2 Eastern Conference Team of the Year.
The Nor'easters' Creative Player of the Year was Theo Quartey (Villanova / UNC Greensboro / Accra, Ghana) who was the team's leader in assists with six, along with four goals of his own. His six assists was tied for second-most in the league.
Tyler Watson (Cumberland / Simi Valley, CA) was the team's Breakthrough Player of the Year while Caden Stafford (Maryland / Cincinnatus, NY) was the Young Player of the Year. The team's Nor'easter Award winner, given to a player's performances both on and off the field, was given to defender Kasper Skraep (Coastal Carolina / Nyborg, Denmark).
Ocean City's tradition of recruiting talented goalkeepers continued in 2021 as four different netminders saw the field this year. Jahmali Waite (UConn / Philadelphia, PA) ended up playing the majority of the minutes, leading the team with four shutouts (and combining for a fifth) and finishing with a 0.80 goals against average, which ranked 11th in the league among goalkeepers with at least eight games played.
Three-time American Athletic Conference Goalkeeper of the Year Yannik Oettl (Central Florida / Munich, Germany) was limited to just three games but also finished with a 0.80 GAA before signing a professional contract with the New England Revolution II (USL Championship). Owen Elliott (Penn State / Philadelphia, PA) started the final four games of the regular season, led the team to a 3-1-0 record and secured a playoff spot.
|Bakary Bagayoko celebrates a goal with his Ocean City teammates (left) and Jahmali Waite makes a save in a 3-0 road win over Real Central New Jersey in the 2021 season opener|
The club also was recognized as having some of the best young players in USL League Two. In the league's Top Prospects list, there were five players who were ranked in the Top 50 all season. Marcel Meinzer (Kentucky / Herxheim, Germany) was the highest-ranked Ocean City player at No. 4. Becher finished the season at No. 9, while Hermann Trophy semifinalist MD Myers (High Point / Delran, NJ) came in at No. 15. Quartey was ranked No. 44, while Waite was positioned at No. 46.
In USL League Two, it's tough to predict how a team is going to come together in the opening few matches as players are just arriving from their respective colleges, and often there has been limited practice time by the time the opening game arrives.
For the 2021 Nor'easters, the Alan McCann Era couldn't have started any better.
The season began in a familiar place for the Nor'easters franchise. At Mercer County Community College, a place that Ocean City called home during the club's 2003 campaign, they defeated expansion side Real Central New Jersey 3-0. A pair of Cumberland University (TN) teammates linked up for the first goal of the season in the 4th minute as Tyler Watson (Cumberland Univ. / Simi Valley, CA) and Bakary Bagayoko (Cumberland Univ. / Bronx, NY) crashed the net and it was Bagayoko who got the final touch as the ball ended up in the back of the net. It was Bagayoko's first of two goals in his Ocean City debut.
A week later, Ocean City made history with another shutout win on the road as they blanked Lehigh Valley United, 7-0, the earn the club's most lopsided road win in club history. Forty-five seconds into the game, MD Myers scored one of the fastest goals in Ocean City history. Tyler Watson scored the first of his two goals three minutes later and the Nor'easters never looked back.
In the second half, Simon Becher came off the bench to make his Ocean City debut and wasted no time opening his Nor'easters account. Becher scored the fastest hat trick in club history, bagging goals in the 75th, 80th and 85th minutes. The 12th hat trick in Ocean City's USL2 history (since 2003) was the first one to be scored by a substitute.
After a dramatic game-winning goal by Theo Quartey handed West Chester United their first loss of the season, the Nor'easters kept their unbeaten streak alive with a scoreless draw with Reading United AC. Both games were the first two home games of the season at Carey Stadium ("The Beach House").
Becher would added two more goals and Tal Segev scored his first Ocean City goal from a free kick in a 3-2 road win over Northern Virginia FC. In the next game, Segev and Becher would score a goal each in a 2-1 home win over Philadelphia Lone Star on June 9 in a game that was originally scheduled as a road game but had to be moved to Carey Stadium due to a scheduling conflict.
Becher would score in his third straight game and Quartey would add a penalty kick goal to earn a 2-2 home draw against Northern Virginia FC. One of the highlights of the game included Oettl saving a penalty kick for Ocean City in the 6th minute.
Three days later, the Nor'easters traveled to Pennsylvania to take on first place West Chester United for the second time and despite playing with a man advantage for the final half-hour of the game, Ocean City had to settle for a scoreless draw. The battle between two of the best defensive teams in the league lived up to the hype as the Storm entered the halfway point of the season undefeated at 5-0-3. It was the best 8-game start to a season since Ocean City's undefeated 2004 campaign.
After goals from Akeim Clarke (North Carolina / Windsor, CT) and Tal Segev (NC State / Rishon LeZion, Israel) gave the Nor'easters a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union II in the club's only exhibition game of the season, Ocean City's second-longest unbeaten streak in club history would come to an end.
After falling behind 2-0 in the first half, Clarke scored his first regular season goal for the Nor'easters less than a minute after coming off the bench to make his Ocean City debut, but that would be the only goal as they fell to Philadelphia Lone Star FC, 2-1. The loss not only ended the Nor'easters' 15-game unbeaten streak (dating back to 2019), but it also snapped the club's 13-game home unbeaten streak. Both were the second-longest streaks in club history.
The first loss of the season lit a fire into the Nor'easters offense, as they would go on a 3-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 13-2 in those games.
In Ocean City's 3-0 win over Lehigh Valley United, it was a fantastic debut for Young Player of the Year Caden Stafford. After Becher scored his a first half goal to put the home team in front at the Beach House, Stafford followed the example that Clarke made in the previous game. Stafford came off the bench to make his debut and he wasn't on the field for more than 10 minutes before Neville Morgan set him up for his first goal for the club. Almost 10 minutes later, Stafford created a goal, setting up Austin DaSilva (Univ. at Albany / Brookfield, CT) for a wondergoal that ended up being a finalist for USL2 Goal of the Week.
Becher's goal against LVU was his team-leading 8th goal and capped off an impressive month of June (5 goals in 7 matches with 3 game-winners) which earned him USL2 Team of the Month honors.
Austin DaSilva made headlines in the next game, scoring the 12th hat trick in the club's USL2 history in a 5-0 home win over Real Central New Jersey. Owen Elliott made his debut and earned the clean sheet.
The third win in a row came on the road against Reading United AC as Ocean City beat their long-time rival, 5-2. It was the first road win against Reading since the 2016 Eastern Conference championship game and it clinched a playoff berth for the Nor'easters.
With a playoff berth in the bag, Ocean City entered the third and final regular season meeting with first place West Chester United with a chance to win the division. Unfortunately, the Storm were unable to recover after giving up two first half goals in a game at Carey Stadium that had to be halted for two hours due to lightning. Quartey would cut the lead in half with a 69th minute penalty kick, but they were unable to find the equalizer and had to settle for clinching second place in the Mid-Atlantic Division for the second year in a row.
The Nor'easters would wrap up the 2021 regular season on the road and managed to do something the club hadn't done since 2013: finish with an undefeated record on the road. Ocean City avenged their first loss of the season with a 6-0 thumping of Philadelphia Lone Star. Becher and Gilbert Waso (Elizabethtown College / Elizabethtown, PA) each scored a pair of goals and Quartey added a goal and an assist as Ocean City earned the club's 7th clean sheet of the regular season, which tied the single-season club record (2004) and was the most shutouts ever earned in a 14-game season.
The first two rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs were hosted in Leesburg, Va. by Northern Virginia FC and the Nor'easters had earned a No. 5 seed. They faced off with the Boston Bolts, the No. 4 seed, the second place team from the Northeast Division. In a defensive struggle, Ocean City edged the Bolts 1-0 thanks to a clutch 78th minute penalty kick by Becher, his 12th goal of the season. It was the Nor'easters' first playoff win since their Eastern Conference championship season in 2016.
In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Nor'easters would face the top seeded West Chester United. It would be the first time in Ocean City's USL2 history (which dates back to 2003), that they played the same team four times in the same season. With each team winning a game, and a scoreless draw between them, something had to give.
MVP / Defensive POY
For the second straight game, it was a defensive battle but it was United that scored the lone goal in the 39th minute and despite heavy pressure throughout the match, Ocean City was unable to find the equalizer and the club's 24th season came to an end.
Jahmali Waite started both playoff games and lowered his goals against average across all competitions to 0.74 which broke Ocean City's single season club record.
With a 9-2-3 regular season record, the Nor'easters continued to establish itself as one of the top club's in USL League Two history. Ocean City now has the fifth-best overall record (154-70-52) since joining the league in 2003, just one point behind rival Reading United.
The Nor'easters now have the fourth-best home record since 2003 (85-28-27). And despite joining the league in 2003 (nine years after it launched), the Nor'easters have the 7th most wins of any team in league history (154), just three behind Reading United and IMG Academy who are tied for fifth.
Next year could be a milestone year in the club's 25th season as a franchise. The Nor'easters are just four victories shy of 100 all-time wins at Carey Stadium.
See you next summer at the Beach House!