USL Pro semifinals: A Look Back

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By FRANCO PANIZO

Orlando City entered the playoffs as the heavy favorites to claim the USL Pro championship. They had done so in 2011 and ramsacked through the regular season this year en route to securing homefield advantage throught the postseason.

No one told the Wilmington Hammerheads that. 

The Hammerheads booked their spot in the championship game last Friday night by pulling off a massive 4-3 upset over the Lions in a semifinals game at the Florida Citrus Bowl that was not close until late. The visitors jumped out in front to a 2-0 lead in the first nine minutes of the game, and they scored their third at the half-hour mark.

Orlando responded with a strike of its own just before halftime and while that seemed to give the club momentum going into the second half, some bad luck in terms of multiple shots hitting the post and the Lions' continuous penchant for costly turnovers and poor defending saw them give up a fourth.

Wilmington went down a man shortly after Corey Hertzog had scored his second of the match, but not even the ejection of Dylan Riley in the 64th minute was enough to help Orlando City avoid disaster. The hosts scored two late goals in stoppage time, but they waited too long for the late-game heroics and were knocked out in front of 7,877 stunned fans. 

In the other semifinals match on Friday:

The Rochester Rhinos were on the brink of advancing to the championship match but they too were upset after a late goal forced them into extra time and then penalties, where they suffered a heartbreaking defeat to the Charleston Battery at Sahlen's Stadium.

Kendell McFayden put the hosts ahead 10 minutes after halftime, but a stoppage-time goal from Tony Donatelli crushed the Rhinos' hopes of advancing and sent the game to extra time. Neither team was able to break the 1-1 deadlock and the match headed to a penalty shootout that needed seven rounds before deciding a winner.

The Rhinos were up 3-2 heading into their fifth shot and a goal would have punched their ticket through but they missed on that chance and their next two, allowing the Battery to finally win, 4-3, after James Mack converted on his look from 12 yards out.

The USL Pro Championship will take place at 730pm ET on Saturday and the Hammerheads will be heading into Blackbaud Stadium to take on the Battery in a match-up of two teams who made surprising runs to the final.

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What do you think of the Hammerheads shocking Orlando City? Surprised the Rhinos could not put away the Battery? Who do you see winning between Wilmington and Charleton in the final?

Share your thoughts below.

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6 Responses to USL Pro semifinals: A Look Back

  1. Chief Hung Like A Bear says:

    Hopefully a nice contingent of Wilmington fans make the straight, 3-hour shot down Rt. 17 for the final.

  2. NE REVS says:

    Helps when you can bring in a guy like Corey Hertzog in the middle of your season. Plus it’s not really an upset. Hertzog scored two goals in a 3-1 home win against Orlando in his first game after being loaned. Then seven and a half weeks later they tied orlando 1-1 at the citrus bowl.

  3. NE REVS says:

    Without Hertzog, Wilmington probably doesn’t even make the playoffs. As it was, they were barely a playoff team. If the Charlotte Eagles had gotten one more point they would have taken Wilmington’s playoff spot on goal difference.

  4. NE REVS says:

    Not the first time Phil Rawlins’ side has been beat by a lower seeded team that was far better than their seed would indicate.

    In the 2010 USSF D2 playoffs, the then Austin Aztex (3 seed) lost to Montreal (6 seed) because Ali Gerba scored four goals in the Impact’s 5-2 aggregate victory. All because Canada’s active leading goal scorer (at the time) wasn’t good enough to play in MLS.

  5. NE REVS says:

    All of which is to say Orlando losing isn’t all that shocking because higher seeds losing to lower seeds with MLS ringers has plenty of precedent.

  6. andrew says:

    Ya. It was obvious that hertzog was the only player that was worth his scratch for Wilmington.