KeyBank Scouting Report: Wilmington Hammerheads - May 29, 2013
The Portland Timbers switch their focus away from MLS to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on Wednesday when they take on the Wilmington Hammerheads (TICKETS, Webstream: www.portlandtimbers.com / 750 AM The Game). Find out everything you need to know about the opposition.
A brief history…
Established in 1996, this North Carolina club plays in the USL Professional Division, which is the third tier of American soccer. They regularly attract decent crowds to the Legion Stadium and they have enjoyed a couple of extended runs in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
After a brief period away from the game in 2010, the club returned to action a year later and it has since been purchased by two wealthy investors. Wilmington recently announced an arrangement with New York Red Bulls.
How did they fare last season?
After finishing in fifth place in the regular season, where they won 10 of their 24 games, Wilmington qualified for the postseason playoffs. From there, they really took off – beating the Richmond Kickers and Orlando City before narrowly losing 1-0 to Charleston Battery in the PRO Championship game.
It proved to be a stand-out year for young forward Corey Hertzog, who scored nine goals and recorded five assists to earn a move to Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS. Hertzog was also named to the league’s All-Star team, while midfielder Bryce Taylor made the second team. They have since lost some key players, including Andriy Budnyi.
How have they done so far this year?
It has been a challenging season for Wilmington so far with just three wins secured from 10 games played and 20 goals conceded though there is still a long way to go in their league campaign.
There were signs of improvements when they recorded a 2-1 win on the road against Los Angeles Blues and followed it up with a 2-0 victory at home over Austin Aztex in the USOC second round. But back-to-back defeats to Orlando and VSI Tampa Bay mean they are going into this Cup game low on confidence due to their form disappearing at what is a crucial period for them.
Head coach: David Irving
Originally from Cumbria, England, Irving enjoyed a long career as a player with big clubs like Everton, Sheffield United, Oldham Athletic, and Shamrock Rovers in Ireland before moving to the United States. He played in the old NASL for Fort Lauderdale Strikers and had stints with a couple of others teams before getting into coaching – firstly with Miami Freedom, then the Carolina Vipers, and now with Wilmington.
Star Player: Jamel Wallace
Selected by the Seattle Sounders in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, this 6'1" defender was did not latch on with Seattle and eventually signed for the Kitsap Pumas. He spent a season there before moving on to Richmond Kickers, but has now linked up with Wilmington, where he has emerged as important leader of their backline.
One To Watch: Cory Elenio
This busy midfielder spent a couple of seasons with Columbus Crew after being picked up in the 2008 MLS Supplemental Draft, although he struggled to break into the team. A spell with Carolina RailHawks brought the best out in him and he now finds himself with the Hammerheads, where his all-action style brings some much-needed energy to their team and can break forward to contribute to attacks.
Who are their main threats?
With Hertzog now gone, Wilmington are missing a frontman who can score goals even when they are not playing well. That has put a lot of pressure on the likes of Kyle Greig, Cody Arnoux, and Steven Perry, while Brazilian Richard Isberner is someone that they are expecting big things from this season. But the service into the forwards must improve, if they are to deliver important goals.
In midfield, Taylor is the one who makes them tick, while the English trio of Mark Briggs, Arron Patrick, and William Heaney provide enough creativity and work-rate to push the team on. Elenio is a player who could emerge as an important cog in their machine, while they will threaten at set-pieces when their defenders can get forward.
Where are they most vulnerable?
With seven defeats and 20 goals conceded so far this season, Wilmington has really struggled defensively. There simply has not been enough protection for goalkeeper Philip Tuttle despite having some talented defenders in Wallace, Michael Daly, and Tom Parratt, and basic errors have led to soft goals going in.
It hasn’t only been about their defense though, the midfield and attack has not kept hold of the ball or been clever enough with their positioning. As a team, they need to be a lot tighter, ensure that they work for each other, and identify a style of play (and formation) that suits their personnel. Until that happens, they will remain quite vulnerable against a more consistent team.
Did You Know?
Wilmington has twice reached the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup. In 2003, they beat the Atlanta Silverbacks and Dallas Burn before falling to D.C. United. In 2009, they beat the Carolina RailHawks and Chicago Fire before losing to Rochester Rhinos.