Sunday, August 19, 2012
ROCK HILL, S.C. -- The Wilmington Hammerheads claimed a berth in the USL PRO Playoffs on Sunday night as they squeezed past the Charlotte Eagles 2-1 at the Manchester Meadows Soccer Complex. Corey Hertzog scored first for Wilmington in the 29th minute. The Eagles were able to equalize in the 57th minute after Darren Toby found the back of the net, but Steven Perry clinched victory for the Hammerheads in the 76th minute, pushing Wilmington into the playoffs.
The defeat, and the Harrisburg City Islanders’ 1-0 victory against the Los Angeles Blues later on Sunday evening, left the Eagles in seventh place in the final USL PRO standings, and out of the playoffs.
With everything at stake for both sides, the game began in a very aggressive mood, with both teams battling in the center of the field for most of the opening 15 minutes. Wilmington applied pressure first with two throw-in opportunities deep in the Eagles’ half. In the 17th minute, the Hammerheads had their first chance of the game, only for the effort to go just wide of the post.
The Eagles had their first chance of the match in the 20th minute from a free kick 10 yards outside the penalty. Mauricio Salles took ripped a shot at goal, but the ball flew just over the crossbar.
The Hammerheads struck first in the 29th minute as Hertzog was able to penetrate deep into the Eagles penalty area and find enough space to put home his shot after a long rebound for his ninth goal of the season. Hertzog, who is on loan from Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls, came close to adding a second before the halftime break, but was denied by Eagles goalkeeper Eric Reed to keep the Hammerheads’ lead 1-0 at the break.
The aggressive nature of the game picked up with the start of the second half. Nathan Thornton was the Eagles first subtitute, and he made his presence felt immediately with two beautiful crosses into Wilmington’s penalty area. Eagles forward Darryl Roberts got a header on the second attempt, but his effort went just wide of the net.
The Eagles did get back on even terms in the 57th minute off a free kick from Salles. After a brief game of pinball in the penalty area as the Hammerheads were unable to clear upfield, Toby’s shot found the back of the net. The goal put the Eagles back in the driver’s seat for a playoff place, as they needed just a draw to advance to the postseason.
Those playoff hopes would be dashed with 14 minutes to go, however, as the Hammerheads regained the upper hand when Perry found himself on a breakaway as Wilmington put together a counterattack. The Eagles final defender lost his footing, allowing Perry in on goal and his shot flew past Reed, putting the Hammerheads up 2-1.
Charlotte pressed for an equalizer that would have put them into the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but Wilmington was able to hold on to claim victory. The Hammerheads will now travel to face the No.4 seed Richmond Kickers in the quarterfinals of the USL PRO Playoffs on Saturday night at City Stadium.