The NPSL’s Golden Gate Conference is one of the most talented, and arguably its most competitive. With only a handful of games left to play, the top four teams in the five-team conference are within two points of each other. In the Golden Gate, iron sharpens iron, and usually the winner of the NPSL’s “black and blue” conference goes far nationally.
Even in such a competitive conference, two teams have stood out as powerhouses of skill, consistency, and success, both locally and nationally. Since 2010, Sacramento Gold FC and the Sonoma County Sol have come to define the class of amateur soccer in the West. Naturally, this mutual success has bred a fierce rivalry between the two perennial contenders.
The Gold and Sol will meet for the second time this season Saturday at Capital Christian High School. As usual, this late-season matchup will play a critical part in playoff positioning, no matter what the result. Before Sacramento and Sonoma write the latest chapter in already packed history, take a look at the history, statistics, and success between these two Northern California powerhouse rivals.
Age B.G. (Before Gold)
Sonoma joined the league in 2004, before the NPSL was called the NPSL (it was changed from “Men’s Premier Soccer League” in 2005). The Sol quickly ascended to the role of powerhouse, reaching the championship game in only its second season, though they fell short in the title game.
From 2005-2009, the Sol missed the playoffs only once (in 2006), winning three straight Northwest/Western Conference championships. After being bounced in two straight semifinals, Sonoma earned the 2009 NPSL Championship with an undefeated season.
Interestingly, Sonoma frequently found itself at odds with another local power, the Sacramento Knights. It was the Knights who slayed the Sol in 2006, winning the championship along the way. However, the Knights folded after the 2008 season. With its main rival out of the way and status as defending champs, it looked like future titles were there for Sonoma’s taking.
A New Challenger from a Familiar Place
However, Sacramento would soon return to the NPSL. Sacramento Gold FC was founded in 2009 and began league play in 2010. A disappointing Sol season combined with a stellar opening year for the Gold led to the defending champs out of the playoffs and the Gold in first place. After Sacramento won the 2010 NPSL Championship, the pieces for a rivalry were once again set in place.
The next two seasons saw two of the closest finishes possible between two teams. In 2011, Sacramento used a late-season surge to make the playoffs ahead of the Sol by one point. The following year, the Sol swept the Gold, but the teams finished tied in points. Due to a goal differential only one goal better, Sonoma got the last ticket to the 2012 playoffs. Like Sacramento the year prior, Sonoma would lose in the Conference Final.
Both teams have made playoffs the last two years, meeting both times in the West Region Final. In 2013, Sonoma defeated Sacramento to continue its undefeated season, though the Sol would ultimately lose in the championship game. The following season, the Gold snapped a nearly two-year winless streak against the Sol to win the 2014 West Region title. However, Sacramento would lose in the National Semifinals.
Numbers Don’t Lie
When looking at the statistics between these two teams, the song “Anything You Can Do” can’t help but come to mind. Since the NPSL became the NPSL, one of the teams has made at least the conference finals in all but one season (the Sacramento Knights won the title). A team from somewhere other than Sacramento and Sonoma has represented the West in the national playoffs just twice in this time.
Since the Gold joined the league, both teams have never missed the playoffs in the same season, with both teams reaching the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. Since 2011, when the playoff format changed to only allocate two spots to Northern California teams, all but two of those spots have been taken by Sonoma and Sacramento.
Between 2009 and the end of the 2011 season, the NPSL title moved a grand total of 83 miles, the Google Mapped distance between the two stadiums. Since 2007 (and since 2005 if you include the Knights), a team within an 83-mile radius in Northern California has been at most three wins from winning a national championship. The NPSL has 65 teams across the country.
The dual success has also come in repeat tandem. Back-to-back national championships, then back-to-back conference final appearances, then back-to-back West Region titles. If it’s not Sacramento it’s Sonoma. If it’s not the Sol, it’s the Gold.
The largest gap between major accomplishments came when Sacramento made the 2013 U.S. Open Cup (losing to the Portland Timbers U-23’s) and had to wait a whopping two years for Sonoma to make the 2015 version. Even then, Sacramento was waiting for them. The Sol lost its first game to Sacramento Republic FC.
Success in the Pros
Speaking of the Republic, Sacramento’s USL team features plenty of local talent, from former local club collegiate stars to prospects within the San Jose Earthquakes’ system. Two members of the Republic’s regular starting eleven include former Gold and Sol players, proving both teams’ success isn’t even limited to their own league.
Max Alvarez, who has become a mainstay on the right side of the Republic’s midfield, played for the Gold just a few years ago. Mickey Daly, who had to play his old team in this year’s Open Cup, has gone from a standout on the Sol to a piece of the Republic’s intimidating defense. Domink Jakubek was a standout in goal, starting in the Gold's U.S. Open Cup game. All three played an integral part in the Republic’s national championship win in its first year of existence last year.
The Gold has gone one step (or two steps, depending in your view) further. Former Gold player Miguel Aguilar was selected by D.C. United in the first round of the most recent MLS SuperDraft. Aguilar, who (as of this writing) has made eight appearances and two starts for the club. In true form of dual success, expect a former Sol player to grace the MLS very soon.
Pages to be Written
Though Sonoma recently held a two-year dominance in games against Sacramento, the Gold has struck back recently. Following the 2014 West Region title game, the 2015 season’s first Gold-Sol matchup proved to be an exciting one, as usual. Though the Gold gave up an own goal mere minutes into the game, they battled to a 2-1 halftime lead. Despite many waves of attack from the Sol, Sacramento put the game away in the 88th minute for a 3-1 win at Rancho Cotate High School.
Since the end of the 2014 NPSL regular season, Sonoma has lost two straight to the Gold (as well as another to a different Sacramento team). Though Sacramento has the momentum, it never really lasts too long in the rivalry. Like always, no one knows to expect in the rematch, which takes place at Capital Christian High School at 7 p.m. Saturday night.
There will be a lot at stake on June 6. Sonoma’s five-game winning streak following the Gold loss was broken two weeks ago against Real San Jose. Sacramento, meanwhile, broke a dismal four-game spell with wins over FC Tacoma 253 and the San Francisco Stompers. The Gold sits one point behind Sonoma, who has a game in hand.
If Sacramento wants a shot at the conference crown, a win over Sonoma is a must. Even so, Sonoma (18 points) must either draw or lose another game to give the Gold (17 points) the edge. San Jose and CD Aguiluchos (16 points each) are right on their heels. Whoever gets the advantage Saturday will have a bit of breathing room, while the loser faces extra pressure in its remaining games.
Overall, it’s close, it’s at the top level, and it’s for the highest stakes. In other words, just like any other instance in this mutually successful rivalry.