Friend networks can come in handy when you’re looking for work, roadtripping cross-country or need help moving. But as Ocean City Nor’easters showed in their First Round win in the U.S. Open Cup last week, they can also help you survive and advance in America’s oldest soccer tournament.
“I have one friend, actually the one who scored the first goal, he's also Peruvian, I’ve played with him all my life,” forward Piero Sabroso explained when asked how he ended up playing with the Nor’easters in their 3-1 Cup win over West Chester United. “We're friends, we study together and he told me, ‘hey, you want to play; there’s a coach who needs some players.’ And I was like, ‘yeah, let's play, let's see what happens.’”
After agreeing to join up, Sabroso, who started up front for the Nor’easters that day against the men from West Chester, made some phone calls and head coach Matt Perrella’s team started to fill out just days before the game played at YSC Sports near King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
One Call Then Another…
“I told a friend and my friend told a friend, and we ended up being a mix of players from all over,” Sabroso said of the method necessary for a USL League Two team, whose season won’t begin until May, to pull in the numbers needed to survive the first few Rounds of the Open Cup.
Sabroso was one of four players from Bethel University in Indiana to join the Nor’easters for the 2023 Open Cup. All four – Sabroso, Andres Latorre, Andre Sabino and Joao De Oliveira – were part of a team that had just won the NAIA National Championship with the Pilots in December.
The Bethel players joined several players from local Eastern Premier Soccer League team Oaklyn United, some Ocean City alums and a couple others from the NAIA and junior college ranks to fill out a squad that had less than a week to prepare.
It was no surprise that Coach Perrella, a goalkeeper and graduate of Rider University, reached out to the NAIA ranks. “It’s a unique channel to tap talented guys,” said the New Jersey native, 31, who took over the Nor’easters this year. “We’re just trying to get a team together and get a positive result. The Open Cup is weird, and you never know what’s going to happen.”
“It's never happened in my life,” said Sabroso. “I'm used to doing two months of preseason and then the season and making an improvised trip, meeting players from all over the world and training just four days to then hop on the pitch and win this match and play as brothers, it felt so nice.”
Players on the team hail from all over. Peru, Ireland, Mexico, Colombia, the Netherlands and Zimbabwe – with some New Jersey guys mixed in. Like a lot of good Ocean City Nor’easters teams over the years, players were uncovered in places often overlooked by other development programs and teams, in smaller non-NCAA schools and junior colleges.
“When you meet ballers like these guys, it doesn't take too long to connect, really,” said Osman Barrie, one of the New Jersey natives on the team. “As soon as they got here they wanted to know everything about you so it was very easy for us to pick up some chemistry.”
Right Mix at the Last minute
The chemistry on the field was especially evident after West Chester took an early lead on a counter-attack goal from Finn Reese. There was no panic in the squad and minutes later the diminutive Latorre was blasting in an equalizer from distance.
It was one of the best goals of the First Round, highlighted nationally on TNT’s USMNT postgame show following the broadcast of the Americans’ 7-1 Nations League win over Grenada on March 24 – and also across the social media platforms of the Bleacher Report and Men in Blazers.
“He's small so he gets overlooked, but he's quick, he's scrappy, he battles for the ball on the ground, he's not afraid to challenge and he can lace the hell out of the ball,” Coach Perella said of the Peruvian whose goal quieted the partisan home crowd and shifted momentum in favor of the visitors. “It’s moments, moments like that one; that’s how we won the game.”
West Chester had dozens of chances but Nor’easters goalkeeper Brady Hochman was there to deny most of them the rest of the way with a huge assist from his backline and a big goal-line clearance. Hochman, from Clarksboro, New Jersey, played college soccer at Millersville and Rosemont and wasn’t even able to train with the group before the Open Cup First-Rounder due to work commitments.He was shaking hands with some of his teammates for the first time minutes before making a save on a well-struck Kyle Tucker free kick early in the match. “What an amazing game he [Hochman] had,” said Perella, a former Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Bethlehem Steel FC keeper, who hasn’t ruled out a return to playing.
Ocean City’s unorthodox roster build for this year’s Open Cup run is the result of the early spring schedule. Playing in a resort town in the summer is a great recruiting tool – live near the beach, train and play during summer break from college – but it makes building a year-round program like their USL League Two rivals West Chester nearly impossible.
In 2022, they hosted Lansdowne Yonkers in the First Round of the Cup and fell on penalties on a bitterly cold and rainy night with a team of alumni they were able to convince to return to the Beach House (the nickname for the home venue, Carey Stadium). But this year they took a different approach, piecing together a roster that had many watching the game (Live on the B/R App and B/R Football YouTube) Googling player names on their phones.
Perrella Still Scrapping
“As a player I had to scrap for everything,” said Perella, who also coaches at Camden County College and with Oaklyn United. “I feel that way as a coach too. I’ve gotta’ earn it and I’m okay with that. I'm just gonna’ keep taking advantage of the opportunities and hopefully prove some people wrong.”
As the team gathered in the middle of the field to celebrate the 3-1 win, Perella and a few of his players took turns giving short speeches in a huddle. They talked about how no one expected them to win, how they’ve been overlooked because they’re too small and been told they're not good enough.
Each short speech ended with another round of cheers and the satisfaction that what they had built together in less than a week – and taken on the road to Pennsylvania – was truly something special.
“It’s not done yet,” Perella said to his players in the huddle, with a Second Rounder in Maryland against full NISA pros the Maryland Bobcats on April 5. “We’re going to do it again.”
Matthew Ralph is managing editor of Philadelphia Soccer Now, contributor to TheCup.us and Communications Director for Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer. @MattRalph_ on Twitter.