By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, January 3, 2016
If there was one team that was happy to see the calendar turn to 2016, it was likely Wilmington Hammerheads FC, which endured its toughest season in 2015 with only three wins and a bottom-place finish in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
If Qudus Lawal has any say, though, the Hammerheads will rebound strongly to earn a fourth playoff appearance this season.
“I know myself that we can turn things around,” Lawal said last month. “It’s about to be a fresh season, and we are going to learn from what happened last season and make a few changes.”
The 20-year-old forward arrived in Wilmington after a midseason trade with Seattle Sounders FC 2, with whom he had turned professional at the start of the season. Lawal scored twice and added two assists in 11 appearances for the club, as his speed and ability to run at defenders proved a bright spot for the club.
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Despite the disappointing results that saw Wilmington win only once at home, Lawal said the spirit among the group never diminished as they strove to improve their results.
“I like the spirit that they have to win,” he said. “Regardless of the way the season was bad for them, the spirit among everybody, the hard work we put in together to try and get the results, how passionate everybody is starting from the front office to the players, that’s what I love about it.”
Lawal had bright moments for S2 in limited opportunities, scoring twice in a 4-3 defeat to Tulsa Roughnecks FC to open his professional account. Those were the only two goals he scored for S2, in just over 200 minutes of action, as the club’s attacking depth led by Andy Craven and others pushed him lower down the depth chart.
While Lawal was disappointed to not get more opportunities to show what he could do with S2, the chance to make the move to Wilmington proved a blessing. He made his debut in a 0-0 draw with Richmond on June 20, and then scored his first goal in a 4-2 win against the New York Red Bulls II that also pushed fellow youngster Stefan Defregger into the spotlight with a two-goal performance.
This offseason Lawal has returned to Chicago, where he grew up playing for the Chicago Fire Academy, with the goal of returning ready to provide the attacking firepower the Hammerheads will need to rise up the standings. The promotion of Mark Briggs from assistant to head coach of the club has him excited to learn more from the former Hammerheads standout.
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“He was the one I talked to most,” Lawal said of Briggs. “When I would want to do some little fitness after practice, I would go to him, and we talked a lot. He has a lot more to offer, because he’s been there. He was once a player, so he knows what it’s like to be a player and what you’re going through and stuff, so I think it’s a good move for him to be the head coach.”
Lawal is also looking forward to trying to reward the Hammerheads’ fans for their strong support in what was a trying season.
“I know what a big season it is for the city too, because they need it,” Lawal said. “I see how passionate the fans are too, and regardless of what happened last season, they still came out, they still show interest, and that’s a good thing. If you’re losing, and you see your fans still with you, that’s a good thing, because you know they believe in you.”
With the Hammerheads expecting much from Lawal in his first full season in Wilmington, Lawal is looking forward to the challenge.“I know what they’re trying to do, and I’m ready for it,” Lawal said.