Ocean City will face top seed West Chester United for the fourth time this season on Sunday night
Photo: Sean Maslin (Full photo gallery)
UPDATE: Kickoff for Sunday's semifinal has been moved to 7 p.m.
A penalty kick goal by Simon Becher (St. Louis Univ. / Brooklyn, CT) in the 78th minute was the difference as the Ocean City Nor'easters edged the Boston Bolts 1-0 in the USL League Two Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Saturday night.
It was Becher's 12th goal in all competitions this season, and just one other player in the league (Nicolas Molina of West Virginia United) has more goals than him. Jahmali Waite (UConn / Philadelphia, PA), who made his first start since June 27, earned the clean sheet in goal for Ocean City, his team-leading fifth in all competitions. With the shutout win, his goals against average dropped to 0.71, a single-season team record.
With the win, Ocean City advances to Sunday's conference semifinal where they will face top seed West Chester United. It will be the fourth meeting of the season between the division rivals, with each team winning once and a third game finishing in a scoreless draw. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Evergreen Sportsplex in Leesburg, Va.
The Nor'easters maintained the majority of the pressure in the first half. Their first scoring chance came after play resumed following a 45-minute lightning delay in the 12th minute. In the 18th minute Alex Andersson (Colorado-Colorado Springs / Helsingborg, Sweden) fired a shot from the left wing, at the corner of the penalty area. He drove it low and forced a tough save from the Boston goalkeeper.
Another scoring opportunity came just before the halftime whistle. Ocean City's pressure on the ball led to an intercepted pass just across midfield, which led to a long through ball that snuck behind the Boston backline and in the path of Becher who found himself on a breakaway. The goalkeeper came off his line to make the save to keep the game scoreless going into the break.
In the 52nd minute, Ocean City's assist leader teed up a free kick from the left wing and drove it right into the pack of players in front of goal. An Ocean City player got a head to it and forced a diving stop by the netminder.
The Nor'easters continued to dominate play as the second half wore on. In the 68th minute, the Storm had their best chance as Neville Morgan (Lindsey Wilson / Westmoreland, Jamaica) sent in a cross from the left wing to the far post. Becher tracked it and volleyed a shot on goal by the Bolts goalkeeper made an impressive point blank save. Boston managed to survive multiple corner kicks in the following minutes but the match remained scoreless.
After another save by the Boston goalkeeper in the 74th minute led to another corner kick, the play ended with a penalty kick. The corner kick was driven into the box and a Boston defender had the ball strike his arm as he attempted to control the cross. The referee pointed to the spot and it was Becher who grabbed the ball and put it down. Becher blasted the ball low and to the left as the goalkeeper guessed wrong and the St. Louis University product would score the goal that would prove to be the game-winner. It was his sixth game-winning goal of the season.
The Bolts put the foot on the gas for the final 15 minutes in an effort to find an equalizer but it would never come. A rocket shot from 35 yards out sailed just wide of the post in the 85th minute, and a cross from the left wing went across the face of goal but just out of the reach of an attacking player as the best chance of the game went wide of the goal.
"We were better in the second half than the first," said Nor'easters head coach Alan McCann. "Around the 70th minute, chances started coming more frequent and we probably should have had a couple more."
It was the first playoff win for the Nor'easters since the club won the Eastern Conference championship in 2016. Dating back to that 2016 season, Saturday night's win extended the club's road playoff winning streak to four games.
Elsewhere, the Western Mass Pioneers advanced to Eastern Conference Final with a 4-0 win over Cedar Stars Rush on Friday and a 5-4 penalty kick win (after a scoreless draw) over wild card entry Seacoast United Phantoms on Saturday night. The Pioneers, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, playing in front of their home fans, won the PK shootout over Seacoast United who upset Metropolitan Division champion (No. 3 seed) Long Island Rough Riders on Friday night.
The winner of Sunday's semifinal between West Chester United and Ocean City will take on the Pioneers next weekend at a site to be determined. The winner of that game will be the Eastern Conference champion and will advance to face the Southern Conference champion in the USL League Two Semifinals.
2021 Eastern Conference Playoffs
Quarterfinals #1 (Ludlow, Mass.)
Friday, July 16, 2021
No. 2 Western Mass Pioneers 4:0 No. 6 Cedar Stars Rush
No. 3 Long Island Rough Riders 1:3 No. 7 Seacoast United Phantoms
Quarterfinals #2 (Leesburg, Va.)
Saturday, July 17, 2021
No. 1 West Chester United 2:1 No. 8 New York Red Bulls U-23s
No. 5 Ocean City Nor'easters 1:0 No. 4 Boston Bolts
Semifinals #1 (Ludlow, Mass.)
Saturday, July 17
No. 2 Western Mass Pioneers 0:0 (5:4 PK) No. 7 Seacoast United Phantoms
Semifinals #2 (Leesburg, Va.)
Sunday, July 18 - 7:30 p.m.
No. 5 Ocean City Nor'easters 1:0 No. 1 West Chester United
Eastern Conference Final / National Semifinal (Venue TBA)
No. 2 Western Mass Pioneers vs. Ocean City / West Chester
Eastern Conference Champion vs. Southern Conference Champion
July 23-25, 2021
USL League Two Final (Venue TBA)
July 31, 2021