USL PRO Feature
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Being down a goal, having to use a back-up goalkeeper who hadn’t previously played a minute all season in a tough road environment would usually cause major concern for a head coach.
Not so for David Irving on Saturday night. And, in the end, his Wilmington Hammerheads side live up to his belief in them as a late goal by Tom Parratt sent his side into the semifinals of the USL PRO Playoffs with a 3-2 victory against the Richmond Kickers.
“Sometimes you sit there and you think, ‘we’re fine’,” Irving said by phone late on Saturday night. “As long as we didn’t give that second goal away, I thought we were going to win the game, because that’s what we are. We might be slow starters, but we’re there and we finish strong. Credit to the boys, because Richmond is a tough place to come and play, it really is.”
Parratt’s goal, just his second since joining the Hammerheads last season, may have come thanks to a little bit of luck, but Irving said he thought it was a just reward for the way his side played in the second half. Only moments earlier, Corey Hertzog had shot over the crossbar from 12 yards out as Wilmington pressed for a game-winner.
Part of that was due to substitute Steven Perry, who after scoring the goal that put the Hammerheads into the playoffs had a goal and assist after coming off the bench in Saturday night’s game. Perry, along with mid-season addition Cody Arnoux and other offseason pick-ups, has provided depth for the Hammerheads this season that Irving said was unprecedented in the club’s history.
“It’s the first time we’ve had some depth in our squad,” Irving said. “This is the deepest squad that I’ve had in Wilmington, when we went to Charlotte on Sunday after losing at home on Saturday, I put seven new players in there, and Charlotte played the same team. I took a bit of a gamble, but we have players, and everyone contributes, and we’ve got a bit of spirit about us, and that will take us a long way.”
The biggest test of that depth on Saturday came inside the first 10 minutes of the contest. Goalkeeper Alex Horwath, who had played every minute of the season to this point and recorded seven shutouts, was forced to leave the game with a hamstring injury, meaning back-up Troy Hernandez had to step in for his first professional appearance. While Hernandez was challenged by the wet conditions, giving up a rebound from Sascha Goerres’ free kick that Jason Yeisley put home for the Kickers’ opening goal, he was otherwise strong to help the Hammerheads advance.
“He did a great job, and the team rallied around him and supported him, and he did a heck of a job,” Irving said. “In fairness, they scored from a free kick, it was wet up here, it had been raining all day, it was slippery and Goerres took a shot, it bounced right before him and he made a good save, but he couldn’t hold it and it went in, but he did very well. All credit to him, he hasn’t played a minute all year and he was thrown in at the deep end, literally.”
The Hammerheads now have the challenge of heading to face defending USL PRO champions Orlando City in the semifinals this Friday night at the Florida Citrus Bowl. The contest is certainly a daunting one, but save for an opening-day drubbing against the Lions, the Hammerheads fared well this season against the league’s top side. A 3-1 victory at Legion Stadium proved to be the Lions’ only defeat of the regular season, and the Hammerheads added to that by taking a draw at the Citrus Bowl, being denied victory as Orlando’s Matt Luzunaris scored a late equalizer. Those results have given the Hammerheads the confidence they will need as they return to play for a place in the championship game.
“We played well when they last came to Wilmington,” Irving said. “We had a tall order ahead of us in the first game of the season, they were ahead of us as far as training and that, we weren’t ready for that first game, but we turned them over in Wilmington and we squeaked out a tie in Orlando in July. They’re a good side, they’re the team to beat, but in one game, anything can happen.”