Interview / Ocean City Nor'easters

Talking with Ocean City Nor’easters’ coach Tim Oswald

Photo: Courtesy of Ocean City Nor’easters

Following up on Greg’s informative post about the Ocean City Nor’easters, PSP got a chance to speak with Ocean City head coach Tim Oswald about how the Nor’easters assemble a roster, what the US Open Cup means to a PDL club, how his team will prepare to face a MLS opponent, and players to watch on Tuesday night.

Ocean City plays Fridays and Sundays from the middle of June into late July. Go to the club’s website, Oceancityfc.com, for a full schedule, information on youth programs and summer camps, the complete roster, and individual and season ticket information.

PSP: Can you give a bit of background information on the Ocean City Nor’easters?

Tim Oswald: We are a PDL (Premier Development League) club located in Ocean City right off the boardwalk. We play all our home games in Carey Stadium which doubles as Ocean City High School’s field.

A large portion of our players are from big time Division I college programs that play in strong conferences, so a lot of our guys have NCAA tournament experience or US national pool experience or international experience. So although we are based in South Jersey, we spend a ton of time recruiting and attending matches to find the best talent we can find from across the country.

We do house a large number of our players. Those guys get jobs in OC or work our soccer camps. It gives them a great opportunity to play amateur soccer in an exceptional conference while still maintaining their amateur status as the finish off their college careers then hopefully play at the next level if they have the opportunity.

When you say you recruit these guys, is your roster mostly guys you found or guys that found you?

It’s a combination of both. I’ve had the opportunity to coach college soccer for a while now, and along the recruiting trail and in the camp circuits you get a chance to meet a lot of Division I assistants and Division I head coaches.

When I took this position last October after Ocean City finished a 2-6-8 season, we really hit the ground running with recruiting, trying to set the standard, and trying to get the club back to where they were in 2009 when they got to the third round of the US Open Cup and lost to DC United. So we hit the ground running from a recruiting standpoint in October of 2011 and that paid off as we finished 13-3 in the Mid-Atlantic division and ended up winning the division.

And obviously that got us a berth into the US Open Cup. So ultimately, the run we are on now essentially started with last summer’s performance as a way to qualify for the US Open Cup tournament. That qualification system has changed over the years. It used to be that you played your first four games of the summer and based on how you do, based on goal differential and things like that you got a berth based on things like that.

So now a lot of what we are doing and a lot of what Reading is doing is predicated on how we did last summer. Clearly some of those guys from last summer’s team remain, but we went out and recruited and we feel that we have gotten better in some of the positions with the guys we have brought in for this year’s team.

As a coach, do you want to keep things simple with only a few games under this team’s belt?

It’s a simple system that we attempt to play, but it can be complex in terms of defensive schema and attacking patterns and combination plays and the way that we defend then transition. We spend a lot of time on the field in sessions reviewing system and shape; a lot of whiteboard/chalkboard stuff, all to prepare our guys.

We try to hit them with a lot of information in a quick ten-to-fifteen days to prepare for this game against the Union.

But the goal is to go as far as we can in the US Open Cup while also preparing for the PDL season at the same time. So the kids are getting the best of both worlds right now. The chance, as amateur players, to play in a MLS stadium, which is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some of these guys, but at the same time it is a 90 minute game and we have to prepare like it’s just another 90 minute game in some ways.

Does playing a MLS club change how you set your lineups?

I think we are still trying to find our brand and find the right chemistry ourselves. We started our preseason camp on May 9th and a lot of our guys weren’t even back from college at that point.

So we really only played two Open Cup games, a few friendlies, and one PDL match together, so I think that the system and the style that we play is still evolving. It’s very similar to our 4-3-3, or a variation of the 4-3-3 we played last summer, but I think the personnel and the guys that play within that system change based on our opponent or based on what we are trying to accomplish.

Will you prepare to be a counterattacking team tomorrow?

I think the important thing for our guys is easing themselves into the game and allowing the game to run it’s course.

Naturally, a college player, an amateur player, is going to walk on the field tomorrow and be a little awestruck. But at the same time, they have to play a 90 minute game as part of that experience.

I feel like whether we are in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 or whatever variation we play within that system, we are going to stick to our key principles, which is to put the ball on the ground, be direct, and look to use some of the pace we have in critical spots to get ourselves forward. Will we have to defend? Absolutely. Will we have to counter? Absolutely. It’s all going to be a matter of how the match starts and how it plays on.

We’ve had an opportunity to watch the Union on film, but an interesting thing about preparing for the US Open Cup is that we have to prepare like the eleven guys that played the other night against Montreal are going to be the eleven guys that will be on the field tomorrow. But we won’t know if that’s true until an hour before the match. So we have to put a lot of systems and variations and styles of play into what we want to do so we can be prepared for any situation the Union throws at us.

As much as that means we have to be reactive, we have to take that reactive measure and turn it into a positive as we get ready.

So when you prepare the Nor’easters or your Rutgers-Camden team, are you preparing them as if they will be in MLS? Do you consciously think about playing a system that will prepare guys for MLS or do you just want to play a system that wins?

You definitely look to balance individual player development with team tactics so you can create a better environment for players to train in, but also you want an atmosphere that is conducive to getting results.

At the PDL level we are thinking about all those things: Development, team tactics, team shape, and a style of play that is going to get us more wins than losses. So far, with the 13-3 record we had last year and the quick start that we are off to this summer, I think a lot of the things we are doing right now are effective. A lot of our guys go back to their college programs and do well there and their coaches have been very responsive to what we do here.

Is the college game approaching MLS or is MLS evolving to meet the college game?

I think the college game is the college game and MLS is MLS. Somewhere in the middle is the PDL.

The PDL clearly has shown itself as an avenue for players to advance their careers into MLS. You see so many guys that have been drafted in recent years who have made their way onto MLS clubs. We have had some of our own that have moved on to that next level [see Greg’s article for examples of Ocean City guys who have made the leap].

I think the experience of playing in PDL in the summer with some of the best players in the country simulates that US combine or that MLS combine because you are clearly merging in some of the top talent from across the country. But MLS is still its own platform and a lot of these guys in PDL are chasing that goal of getting into MLS or a contract overseas.

Does a game like this do a lot to get the Ocean City name out there? Is this the type of thing that can get you a call from a college coach saying he saw you play and he would like to start a relationship with Ocean City?

Yeah, that’s what we are clearly looking to do. Getting to this level of play and this stage will clearly help our team this year in terms of their confidence and swagger going into the PDL season. But it will also give us the opportunity to land better players from bigger programs from the top conferences across the country. A game of this magnitude definitely helps.

If you look around right now, there are over 70 PDL teams across the country and only four teams have advanced to this round of the cup. Obviously college kids are going to look at that and say, “Where do I want to be next summer?” And then you factor in living at the beach and a lot of guys are saying this is where they want to be.

When we started tryouts we had over 200 kids reach out to us about joining the team, and that is outside of the recruiting we did on our own. Inevitably, we are hoping that the 2012 run and the Open Cup success we have had thus far, coupled with a positive 2013 campaign, are going to continue to grow our brand regionally and across the country. We had some kids last summer go out to USL combines and other kids at the combines are bringing up the Nor’easters and bringing up how well we did last year.

Are there players people should keep an eye on in this game?

Tapiwa Machingauta [No. 5], a center back from Bradley, was a regional All-American last year as a senior. Kevin Curran [No.4] is the only remaining member from the 2009 team that played DC United down in the Soccerplex. Zoncher Dennis [No. 22] was a freshman All-American at Mount Saint Mary’s who we think will make a positive impact on the game. And Shawn McLaws [No. 20] from Coastal Carolina is a right back that had an exceptional year last season.

Final thoughts?

This is going to be a great opportunity for our kids. To get there early, to take in the venue, all that will help. Obviously we are facing a MLS giant and TV-40 here in Ocean City said it will be like David versus Goliath, and to a degree that’s true.

Not many amateur teams have gone on to beat a MLS team, but to get to the next round you need to get a result. And as much as we want a result, the Union equally want it because they want to advance as far as they can as well. The US Open Cup is a great opportunity for kids, in general, to all play in one event. There aren’t many places you can find that.

3 Comments

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