ORLANDO, FL (Courtesy USL Pro) — The Wilmington Hammerheads advanced to the USL PRO Championship Game on Friday night, denying defending champion Orlando City Soccer Club’s bid for a second consecutive hampionship as they took a 4-3 victory at the Florida Citrus Bowl. Corey Hertzog scored twice to lead the Hammerheads to victory.
“It was a tough end to the season,” said Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath. “We will recompose ourselves and learn from this.”
Just four minutes in, the Hammerheads were awarded a penalty kick after Hagop Chirishian was brought down by Miguel Gallardo in the penalty area. Hertzog converted from the spot to give Wilmington a 1-0 lead.
Five minutes later, the Hammerheads struck again. Hertzog found an unmarked Luke Holmes inside the penalty area, and the rookie forward took a quick touch and beat Gallardo at the near post, stunning the crowd and Gallardo. The second goal appeared to wake up the Lions, who went heavy in the attack to get back in the game.
The task became more difficult when a poor giveaway by Ian Fuller started a Hammerheads counterattack. The Lions appeared to snuff out the chance, but a clearance fell to Chirishian at the top of the penalty area. The Armenian-American wasted no time and drilled his shot just inside the left post for a 3-0 lead.
Down by three goals for the first time all season, Adrian Heath’s squad was looking for a spark. They got it from Matt Luzunaris. Replacing Rodrigo Lopez in the 34th minute, Luzunaris was active in the attacking third, willing City to score. His efforts paid off with the former UCF Knight cleaning up a Dennis Chin strike with an off-balance volley in the 44th minute. Despite the 3-1 scoreline, the momentum was with the Lions going into the break.
The Lions came out strongly to start the second half, hitting the post and forcing several saves. That all changed in the 59th minute, when a poor pass by Jerome Mechack gifted Hertzog a free path to goal. The on loan New York Red Bulls striker netted his second goal of the game, and what proved to be the game-winner.
Orlando was given a man-advantage in the 64th minute when Dylan Riley was sent off, but the Lions were unable to take advantage of the extra player until much too late. Despite Jamie Watson converting a penalty kick and George Davis IV adding another goal off a deflected shot in second-half stoppage time, the clock ran out on City before an equalizer could be found.
Wilmington advances to the USL PRO Championship match against the Charleston Battery next Saturday, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C. The Battery advanced to the championship game after a thrilling 4-3 victory in penalty kicks against Rochester in the other semifinal on Friday night.