Wilmington Hammerheads officially drop from pro ranks to college prospect league

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TAMPA, Florida — The Wilmington Hammerheads 20-year run as a pro soccer club has officially come to an end following an announcement of the organization’s move to the Premier Development League (PDL) heading into the 2017 season.

The PDL franchise will be owned by current Wilmington Hammerheads FC owner George Altirs, while the day-to-day operations of the team will be overseen locally by the Wilmington Hammerheads Youth FC Board of Directors.

Photo courtesy- Wilmington Hammerheads FC
Photo courtesy- Wilmington Hammerheads FC

“The PDL is excited about the expansion of Wilmington Hammerheads FC as the league’s newest franchise,” PDL Director Todd Eason said. “The Hammerheads have built a strong following throughout their history in the USL. For the better part of two decades, the Wilmington community has enjoyed a top-caliber soccer franchise, and without question, the future PDL players for the Hammerheads will experience a professional-level culture. We’re thrilled to see the team provide that platform for development for high-level, college-aged players starting in 2017.”

The Hammerheads FC name has been held since it was founded in 1996. The professional franchise is seeking a spot in the United Soccer League (USL) as an expansion club reportedly headed to Baltimore, Maryland, leading into the 2018 season.

“There has been an important emphasis on keeping competitive soccer and the Hammerheads in Wilmington,” Altirs said. “This is the community’s team, and I am happy that it is not going anywhere. Given the landscape, this league transition is the best decision for the club.”

The Hammerheads will become the third PDL team in North Carolina, creating regional rivalries against the Charlotte Eagles and Carolina Dynamo.

“We are thrilled to have a PDL franchise in Wilmington,” said Hammerheads Youth Board President Bennie Sheally. “We are surrounded by so many top college soccer programs – universities like our own UNC-Wilmington, UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia and many more. We hope to recruit some top-level college talent to Wilmington and be competitive from the start.”

The 2016 PDL regular season saw 67 teams compete in four conferences across the United States and Canada. Twelve of the PDL’s members, including Nashville SC U23, Sounders FC U23, New York Red Bulls U23 and OKC Energy U23, are owned and operated by an MLS or USL club, or holding a partnership with an MLS or USL club.

The PDL has provided top-level players opportunities to rise to the professional ranks for more than two decades. U.S. Men’s National Team members such as Brad Guzan and DeAndre Yedlin, as well as budding MLS stars in Keegan Rosenberry and Brandon Vincent and MLS stars in Kei Kamara and Matt Hedges, are among the PDL alumni. While more than 350 PDL alumni have played in the 2016 USL regular season, more than 200 PDL alumni have competed in the 2016 Major League Soccer season.