Wilmington ends Orlando City season in first playoff game

Corey Hertzog’s brace ended Orlando City’s run for a second consecutive United Soccer Leagues (USL) Pro title as the Wilmington Hammerheads crushed the Lions 4-3 Friday evening in front of 7,887 fans at the Citrus Bowl.

After ending the regular season undefeated at home, Wilmington not only handed City their first loss of the season but also handed them their first home loss, knocking them out of the playoffs.

“It’s been a very poor night for us,” said Coach Adrian Heath. “We made ourselves a mountain to climb.”

Hertzog woke the Hammerheads up early when City goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo was penalized for fouling forward Luke Holmes.

Corey Hertzog buried the spot kick in the fourth minute, only to see Luke Holmes double the score four minutes later.

“We have a lot to think about and ponder. Decisions need to be made in the next few months,” said Heath. “We won the league by 17 points, but tonight was poor. That’s football.”

Sloppy defense just kept on holding Orlando City from coming back. Chirishian Hagop tripled the lead in the first 30 minutes, leading Heath to bring in Matt Luzunaris to lead on the offensive.

Despite giving up three goals in the first half, Luzunaris showed a sign of relief when he scored City a goal right before halftime.

“It sucks to be in this position,” said Luzunaris. “They obviously played better tonight.”

City entered the second half more aggressively, but weren’t able to capitalize on their opportunities.

Last time both teams met, a frustrating 1-1 draw kept the Lions unbeaten at home. Orlando outshot Wilmington 36-6.

With Orlando outshooting the Hammerheads 32-9, Hertzog downed the Lions when he completed his brace in the evening, breaking down the City defense and sliding the ball past Gallardo in the 59th minute.

Things seemed to be getting better for Orlando before Dylan Riley elbowed Jamie Watson on the 64th minute, which led the referee to give Riley his marching orders for the night.

Toward the end of the game, City drew two goals into stoppage time. Jamie Watson converted a penalty kick when Dennis Chin was brought down into the penalty box.

“We really didn’t give them goals in the second half,” Heath told reporters after the game. “I just couldn’t believe what I was watching, but it’s the end of the season.”

George Davis added a third goal on the last minute of stoppage time, which looked to change the upset to a comeback, but wasn’t enough as Wilmington pulled an upset and sent the Lions back to the locker room with only next season to think about.

Wilmington will go on to play the Charleston Battery, who also upset second place Rochester Rhinos in penalty kicks, 4-3.