Quarterfinals see City Islanders visit Battery, Kickers host Hammerheads
TAMPA, Fla. – The USL PRO Playoffs open this weekend with four teams aiming to take the first step toward a championship and advance to the semifinals. After coming through the rigors of the 24-game regular season, the Charleston Battery, Richmond Kickers, Wilmington Hammerheads and Harrisburg City Islanders face off in Saturday night’s quarterfinals.
The action begins at Richmond City Stadium as the No. 4 seed Kickers host the No. 5 seed Hammerheads at 7 p.m. ET. The Kickers fell in their final game of the regular season in Antigua, losing out on the chance to earn the No. 2 seed and a bye to the semifinals that instead went to the Rochester Rhinos, but had been in good form prior to that, winning four consecutive games to secure their place in the postseason. While maintaining the same core that has brought the club success and nine consecutive playoffs berths, the Kickers have also received a jolt of attacking energy from Chris Agorsor this season, with the former University of Virginia forward leading the team with 15 points and six goals.
Wilmington, on the other hand, needed victory on the final day of the season to claim its berth in the playoffs, taking a 2-1 win against Charlotte on Sunday to return to the playoffs for a second consecutive season. As with Richmond, the Hammerheads have been led by a standout young striker, with their acquisition on loan of the New York Red Bulls’ Corey Hertzog providing the side with major attacking firepower. Hertzog had two goals and an assist in the Hammerheads’ two wins against the Kickers this season as Wilmington went 2-1-0 in their three regular season contests, and will be the man Richmond will need to contain if it is to repeat its 2011 playoff win against the Hammerheads and move on.
The second quarterfinal takes place at Charleston’s Blackbaud Stadium, where the No. 3 seed Battery will host the No. 6 seed City Islanders at 7:30 p.m. ET in a game that can be seen live on USLNation.com. The Battery are coming off a draw with Dayton in their final outing of the season, but possess enough firepower to be a threat to make a run through the playoffs. Nicki Paterson finished second in USL PRO with 10 goals, and he is ably backed by Jose Cuevas and Dane Kelly, both of whom finished with double-digit points this season.
The City Islanders left things late to secure their place in the postseason, with Yann Ekra’s goal and USL PRO Player of the Week Nick Noble’s goalkeeping heroics earning a 1-0 win on the road against Los Angeles jumping Harrisburg past Charlotte and into the final playoff place. A finalist last season, the City Islanders have had to battle their way into the playoffs this season, but could take inspiration from their 3-0 win against the Battery earlier this month at Skyline Sports Complex that saw Tom Mellor record a goal and an assist and leading scorer Lucky Mkosana find the back of the net. The victory earned a split of the season series for Harrisburg after Charleston took a 3-1 win at Blackbaud Stadium on June 23 behind a goal and assist by Navion Boyd.
For live updates from all the weekend’s games, plus news, features, previews and game reports from throughout USL PRO, follow the league on Twitter (@USLPRO) and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/USLPRO). A full schedule for this weekend’s action can be found below.
USL PRO PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE
Saturday, August 25
No. 5 Wilmington Hammerheads at No. 4 Richmond Kickers, 7 p.m. ET
No. 6 Harrisburg City Islanders at No. 3 Charleston Battery, 7:30 p.m. ET, USLNation.com
Friday, August 31
Lower remaining seed at No. 1 Orlando City, 7:30 p.m. ET
Higher remaining seed at No. 2 Rochester Rhinos, 7:35 p.m. ET
USL PRO is the strongest, best operated and most experienced North American men’s professional soccer league below MLS, both on and off the field. Focused on franchise stability and longevity, USL PRO features 11 teams in 2012 and an unprecedented six teams with more than a decade of operational experience. The league is focused on aggressive but deliberate growth by adding teams fully capable of meeting USL and USSF standards, which are located in markets that further promote regional league play. In addition to league play, USL PRO teams will compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various domestic and international exhibitions. USL PRO is affiliated with the USSF.