WILMINGTON — Twenty years of professional soccer in the Port City likely came to an end on Saturday night at Legion Stadium as Wilmington Hammerheads FC played in its final regular season match. But the home side gave the crowd one last hurrah, a dramatic 2-0 result over the Richmond Kickers.
With rumors swirling since late July of the club taking a hiatus in 2017 and a potential move from the city it’s called home for the last two decades, the Hammerheads run appears to have come to an end in Wilmington, but the local pro soccer club did what it needed to do to stay alive for a postseason berth.
Matthew Barnes-Homer tallied a first-half goal and Michael Mecham provided a tally in the second half as Wilmington improved to 8-12-10 (34 points) overall and moved into eighth place. That puts the Hammerheads two points ahead of Orlando City B in the quest for the final Eastern Conference slot in the 2016 USL Cup Playoffs. Orlando is 8-13-8 (32 points) and needs to win its road match Sunday against Bethlehem Steel FC.
Either way, the eighth-place team will play at New York Red Bulls II in the opening round of the playoffs, which means Saturday’s match was in all probability the final time the Hammerheads will play in Wilmington.
According to an article this week by Steven Goff of the Washington Post, the USL is looking to continue its development as a third-tier soccer league by moving the Wilmington club to Baltimore, Maryland, for the 2018 season.
“The most promising scenario has the Wilmington Hammerheads moving from the North Carolina coastal town to Charm City, taking a year off for marketing and logistical purposes and beginning play under a new name in 2018 at Towson University, which is located 10 miles north of downtown Baltimore.” Goff wrote.
Wilmington Hammerheads FC was one of four teams that were part of the original USL in 1996. But the recent development of the league has put franchises in major US cities, leaving Wilmington out of the mix as the league’s smallest market. Over the last few seasons, the USL has expanded to Cincinnati, Louisville, Phoenix, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio and Tulsa. FC Cincinnati has enjoyed tremendous success in attendance, averaging some 17,000 fans this season.
While nothing has yet been confirmed nor announced, the USL and Wilmington Hammerheads FC are expected to release information regarding the change soon.
The Washington Post also reported that while professional soccer would be potentially leaving Wilmington, the Hammerheads name would live through its local youth program and in the Premier Development League, a fourth-level summer circuit for college-aged players.
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