WILMINGTON – While Wilmington Hammerheads FC management could not be reached for comment on rumors regarding the clubs reported hiatus for the 2017 United Soccer League (USL) season, the Port City could soon be without it’s only professional sports organization, according to a soccer enthusiast based website.
“Scratching the Pitch“ has predicted a break in the teams operation for 2017, citing “independent sources within league.” That report followed United Soccer League’s (USL) mid-season meetings. Hammerheads General Manager Jason Arnold did travel to San Jose, Calif. this past weekend as part of commitments required by the league during Major League Soccer’s (MLS) All-Star Game.
With local soccer fans waiting in limbo as the 2016 season heads through its final two months, there are some reasons why Wilmington might not have professional soccer in the near future.
Wilmington is celebrating its 20th anniversary season this year and is one of the oldest franchises within the USL. That alone doesn’t mean much, but the Hammerheads play in one of the smallest markets within a growing league that has seen recent expansion in cities like Nashville, Tenn., and seen record-setting crowds attend each week during the inaugural season of Cincinnati FC.
One other observation pointing to the Hammerheads not being part of Wilmington for much longer, at least not at its current level of competition, was identified in May 2015 when USL President Jake Edwards said in a news release: “A critical part of our strategic growth plan is to have all USL clubs as owners or primary tenants of soccer-specific stadiums by 2020.”
With Legion Stadium being a multi-use facility, the Hammerheads would have to find a new home by 2020. A recent bond-proposal geared towards a massive soccer facility is set to go to the voters in Wilmington this November, but there were no plans to build a stadium to properly house the necessary fans to support a team.
There is another reason why a move could make sense to team owners: Since 2013, USL has served as a third-tier league partner with Major League Soccer (MLS). At that point MLS teams were required to affiliate with a USL club or start their own franchise to facilitate player development through the third-tier league. The Hammerheads partnered with New York City FC last season, with little to no relationship since its inception. While multiple MLS clubs across the country frequently bounce players back-and-forth for various purposes, Wilmington has not been a part of the trend with the exception of one occasion during the 2015 season when NYC-FC sent several players for a match against New York Red Bull II in Harrison, New Jersey.
The Hammerheads also missed the 2010 season due to financial problems, but local businessman Bill Rudisill and a minority ownership group combined their efforts to get pro soccer back in the Port City for the 2011 season. In 2013, Rudisill and his group sold the franchise to New York businessman George Altirs.