The 2015 season was Wilmington's worst. Scoring a league low 22 goals on the year, the Hammerheads were last place in the East for the entire second half of the season. Crashing out of the US Open Cup to Chattanooga FC - for the second time - didn't help. After changes in the coaching staff and roster, however, things are looking up in the Port City.
Looking to reverse the bad luck of last season, the club ushered in a new era with former Hammerheads player Mark Briggs taking over as head coach. The off-season signings have helped improved the club at all positions. Liam Miller, 35, has used his English Premier League playing experience to captain the team in each of its first two matches. Goal scorers Logan Miller and Ashani Fairclough were also off-season additions. Fairclough, who played for Wilmington last season until he was traded to Seattle Sounders 2 for current Wilmington striker Qudus Lawal, has returned to the back-line for the club and scored the opening goal of the season.
Currently third in the Eastern Conference, Wilmington has seen an improvement from last season when the club only went as high as sixth. They opened their 20th anniversary season welcoming Orlando City B into the league, and walked away from Melbourne with a crucial 2-1 road victory. Starting the season with a win provided much needed momentum.
Despite the 0-0 draw against Richmond in the home opener, there are many positives to take away, such as getting the season's first clean sheet, after giving up five goals to the Kickers in 2015. Having started the season with two unbeaten matches, this leaves the Hammerheads only game away from tying last season's longest such streak.
The next couple of matches will provide a test for the club. Saturday features a trip to Southern Derby rival Charleston Battery. The Battery outscored the Hammerheads 4-1 last season, so this match should be a good measuring stick for Wilmington's improvement.
Next, the Hammerheads will return home for two matches against the only two clubs they beat last season, New York Red Bulls II and FC Montreal. Finally, Wilmington closes out the month of April against FC Cincinnati, home of former Hammerheads Paul Nicholson and Corben Bone.
With positive results in the opening matches of the season, it will be interesting to see if the Hammerheads can qualify for the playoffs, after making the quarterfinals two years ago. After the abysmal season 2015, an unbeaten start by Wilmington looks to be the start of the bounce back season, but time will tell if 2015 was just a fluke.