WECT of Wilmington, N.C., reports that despite flickers of optimism that a buyer could be found for the troubled USL-2 Wilmington Hammerheads, those hopes appear to be dashed and the USL is proceeding with the 2010 season without this North Carolina market.

This brings the number of teams apparently playing in the USL-2 next season to eight, a figure that reflects last week’s announcements that the Charleston Battery would self-relegate to the lower division, and that Tampa and Crystal Palace Baltimore would jump from the USL to the upstart, revived North American Soccer League.

The disappearance of the Hammerheads is a loss for the USL-2, certainly, but it’s also a loss for North Carolina soccer fans. Wilmington is a solid small market with an excellent stadium, and a healthy intra-state rivalry emerged last season between the then-USL-1 Carolina RailHawks and the Hammerheads. Jamie Watson, last year’s USL-2 player of the year, played in the Port City for a season, scoring 12 goals in 16 appearances. He’s now under a two-year contract to the Austin Aztex of the USL-1, which currently consists of either five or six teams (Austin, Rochester, Puerto Rico, Portland, the expansion FC New York and, perhaps, Cleveland).

According to WECT, David Irving, the highly regarded coach of the Wilmington Hammerheads for the past 12 seasons, is now free to seek other employment.