Orlando City's season ends with loss in soccer semifinals
Orlando City fell 4-3 to Wilmington Hammerheads
Orlando City's Jamie Watson reacts after the Lions lost to Wilmington in the USL Pro playoff semifinals Friday night. (Hansong Gu, Orlando Sentinel)
The second time, a 4-3 Hammerheads victory Friday at the Florida Citrus Bowl in front of an announced crowd of 7,887, ended Orlando City's season and hopes for repeating as the USL Pro league champions one game too early.
"It was not our night tonight; it was theirs," said Orlando City coach Adrian Heath, whose team couldn't complete a near-miraculous rally in the closing minutes. "It was not a good night to have our worst game."
The Lions, who had a first-round bye, were 17-1-6 in the regular season.
Orlando City was reeling almost from the beginning against Wilmington, which went 1-1-1 in the regular season against the Lions and beat Orlando City 3-1 on June 2. Little more than three minutes in, the Hammerheads were ahead after Corey Hertzog's goal on a penalty kick.
"It's a downer; it's a dagger in the heart," Orlando City forward Matt Luzunaris said of the early goal. "It's so difficult to come back from that."
Less than five minutes later, Orlando City trailed by two goals after Luke Holmes' strike off an assist from Hertzog. Hagop Chirishian made it 3-0 for Wilmington with a blast in the 29th minute.
"The first 29 minutes were pretty difficult to explain, really," Heath said. "We were all over the place and couldn't handle their front two men. We gave ourselves a mountain to climb, and we couldn't climb it."
The Lions made a step toward that climb with Luzunaris' goal in the final minute of the first half, but several missed opportunities in the second half and Hertzog's second goal meant Orlando City entered the stoppage minutes late in the final period trailing 4-1.
That's when a tough Wilmington defense and tenacious Hammerheads goalkeeper Troy Hernandez seemed to let up, allowing Orlando City to capitalize with goals from Jamie Watson and George Davis.
Another clear shot did not materialize, though, for the Lions.