Local / Union / US Open Cup

Cinderella becomes Bridezilla — Ocean City takes on U.S. Soccer

Photo: Paul Rudderow

So here were the Ocean City Nor’easters, set to emerge from obscurity as a beloved Cinderella team in the U.S. Open Cup.

The amateur fourth division club from Ocean City, N.J., had knocked off the New York Red Bulls U-23 team and upset the third division Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Next up is tonight’s match against Philadelphia Union, the MLS big boys from up the Atlantic City Expressway. Ocean City’s shot in the limelight comes against the local first division club, of all teams. Who wouldn’t root for Ocean City?

Then Cinderella turned out to be Bridezilla.

“Going to war with US Soccer”

Ocean City’s feel-good story turned into a short-lived, acrimonious and ultimately unsuccessful protest last week against U.S. Soccer in a last ditch effort to move the game to Carey Field in Ocean City.

Apparently, Ocean City won the right to host the game but lost it because their field was smaller than U.S. Open Cup standards. Ocean City learned of the issue just before the tournament started and increased their field size in response. They then got to host cup matches against Pittsburgh Riverhounds and New York Red Bulls’ U-23 squad.

The problem must have been solved, right?

Wrong. Ocean City learned May 15 they had lost hosting rights to their third round match against Philadelphia. They then tried to sort matters out with U.S. Soccer, but by then it was too late.

“The error was more that we didn’t follow up properly with US Soccer immediately after we widened the field but as they let us host the two games why would we think anything was wrong(?)” Ocean City spokesman Steve Hurlby told the Philly Soccer Page via email.

Pretty reasonable, isn’t it?

And then, Ocean City hit the self-destruct button

Cinderella should have had a fighter’s chance once this went public. At the very least, the Nor’easters could have become a beloved and wronged underdog. It’s almost patriotic for Americans to root against bureaucracy.

Instead, Ocean City’s leadership employed such polarizing and sometimes disingenuous rhetoric that they squandered some of the good will their players earned on the field.

They described the field situation as follows:

“… due to a clerical error 3 months ago US Soccer believed that the dimensions of our field did not meet the requirements. Once they discovered this error the Jersey Shore team increased the size of their field to the US Open Cup standards.”

No, it wasn’t a clerical error that caused U.S. Soccer to believe the field wasn’t big enough.

It was reality. Because the field was not big enough.

You don’t increase the field size because of a clerical error. You increase it because it’s not big enough. The clerical error was, as Hurlby noted, that U.S. Soccer didn’t know the field was now regulation size.

Ocean City extrapolated upon this snafu to pronounce Big Things like, “US Soccer is damaging soccer in this country by being overly biased to the top level…”

Riiiiiiiiiiight. That’s why the Los Angeles Galaxy traveled to North Carolina for a mid-week game. And Seattle went to Florida. Because of U.S. Soccer’s bias toward MLS. OK. Sure.

Ocean City is entitled to protest. It’s understandable that they’re not happy with how things played out. A sell-out at Carey Field could have funded the club’s operations for three to four years, according to the team.

But enough of the “down with The Man” nonsense. It rings hollow. The problem here was that the field was too small, and U.S. Soccer wasn’t bureaucratically nimble enough to adjust to the Nor’easters late field size fix or consistent enough to make one pronouncement for all of Ocean City’s matches. End of story.

A lesson in gracefulness

Why were the Union treated differently from Pittsburgh or the Red Bulls’ U-23 squad? Probably because they have thousands of season ticket holders. The club needs time for planning to effectively manage a stadium the size of PPL Park. That’s not even remotely unreasonable. One could even argue Ocean City got special treatment by being able to host ANY of the games at home after U.S. Soccer deemed their field too small. (That argument would probably lose, but Pittsburgh could have reasonably made it via protest after their 400-mile road trip.)

In the end, only the Union employed the required grace here. They recognized the absurdity and unfairness of the situation and offered a portion of ticket sales to Ocean City. They are entitled as hosts to keep it all.

A Union-Nor’easters match in Ocean City could have been a terrific local soccer event. The Union would have gotten to play a meaningful game down the shore, which could have been huge public relations boost for both clubs. Ocean City could have sold out a match against the local MLS club, possibly collected enough money to fund their operations for another three years, and had a better chance to pull off the upset due to home field advantage. Ocean City fans would have seen a David-and-Goliath match – in their back yard.

Instead, we’ll get a half empty full* PPL Park for a cup match, which is a shame. The U.S. Open Cup should be a great tournament, but people off the field keep on screwing it up.


  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    And unfortunately the weather tonight won’t help at all

  2. “Instead, we’ll get a half empty PPL Park for a cup match, which is a shame.”
    I see you’re a “PPL Park is half-empty” kind of guy…

  3. I would expect Ocean City gets a reasonable part of the gate in addition to Union’s offer. Teams just don’t show up for nothing. And whatever they get would probably match one season’s gate.

  4. All of the fuss was about promoting their team- mission accomplished.

  5. EvilH0mer says:

    But don’t worry – the “paid/announced attendance” will be 15k+.

    • That’s probably a given. There are, what, 12,000 season ticket holders? They all get counted, even if they don’t show up.
      In other stuff… How (if at all) do Open Cup rules differ from MLS rules? Did I read somewhere that 4 subs are allowed? And I also vaguely recall there being a rule about the total number of non-American players allowed on the game-day roster. Am I remembering that rule correctly?

  6. neck label says:

    the nor’easters team that played against the NYRB U23 can beat the UNION team that showed in montreal on saturday

  7. I hate missing Union matches more than anything. However soft line up, weather, and opponent triple punch is keeping me from driving 2 hours to PPL and 2 back. If I was to see a serious line up tonight I would be there in a heart beat.

  8. Andy Muenz says:

    It actually seems silly that the road team doesn’t automtically get part of the gate, given the random draw nature of the event. 50/50 split would be nice, given that the home team also gets the concession money. 30/70 split would still be reasonable, given the extra cost the home team faces to operate the stadium.

    In other news, it’s 2 hours before kickoff and there are about 20 cars in lot B. (Lot C is fuller, but that’s because not everyone who works in the power plant has left for the day, myself included.)

  9. Don’t forget the Cup draw also sent Dallas to Ft. Lauderdale. Which is where work sent me. So I’m going to go, watch the Union on my iPhone, and start “Dallas Sucks” chants as often as I can.

  10. Great One says:


    • No, he was sitting in the box right behind us. He was kind enough to autograph my daughter’s jersey for her…

    • That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it likely shows that he’ll be out the door sooner rather than later…

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