Tomorrow night, the Sacramento Gold looks to keep its postseason dreams alive against a Real San Jose opponent which has already beaten them twice in 2015. This season, the Gold has struggled to figure out how to beat a team it's usually dominant against.
A loss for either squad means a summer spent reading about the playoffs online. Can the Gold ensure it won't be them by solving the Real puzzle? Here's a preview of tomorrow night's game.
GG Conf: 3rd
Goals Scored: 22
Goals Against: 17
Points per Game: 1.70
Last 5 Games: T-L-W-W-L
Head-to-Head (2015): 0-2
2014 Matchups: 3-0
GG Conf: 4th
Goals Scored: 22
Goals Against: 25
Points per Game: 1.60
Last 5 Games: L-L-W-W-L
Head-to-Head (2015): 2-0
2014 Matchups: 3-0
A Complete 180
Historically, Sacramento has dominated San Jose. A perennial contender, Sacramento has largely been successful against most teams it has played in its history, San Jose included. Last season, the Gold swept all three regular season matchups, winning by a combined 11-0. This season, however, it's quite a different story.
It started back in early March, when San Jose took advantage of their opportunities in a 3-0 shocker at Capital Christian in a U.S. Open Cup qualifying contest. In the rematch in San Jose, Real came out hot from the get-go in a 3-1 win, with the only goal coming off the head of a San Jose defender.
Perhaps it's a fluke. Perhaps it's a case of parity catching up to the Golden Gate. Perhaps San Jose is actually a pretty good team which would make the playoffs if were in the Southwest or Northwest Conference. After all, Real is the only team to beat both Sacramento and the Sonoma County Sol this season.
That isn't to say San Jose's regular season win over Sacramento came without controversy. After falling behind 1-0 early, Sacramento stepped up its pressure, controlling the ball through the rest of the first half and into the second half. With about a half hour left to go, the game turned on one play, two cards, and three calls.
Capitalizing on a counter-attack, San Jose's Edwin Luna seemed to have a step on Sacramento defender Zach Ulrich as they sprinted to the Sacramento Goal. Just as they crossed into the box, both fell down. Instantly, the referee blew his whistle and issued a penalty kick. He then pulled out his red card, first showing it to Ulrich, then to Gold goalkeeper John Connolly, who had voiced his displeasure over the call.
Though backup goalkeeper Max Herrera was able to make a cold penalty save, a nine-man Gold was simply outmanned for the remainder of the game. Would Sacramento had been able to tie the game (or win it) if they had all eleven--or even ten--men? We'll never know for certain, but the Gold has a chance for redemption if it can take care of a major problem.
Sacramento's biggest fault this season has been its ability to let opponents hang around by missing easy chances to finish. While the Gold can control the possession of any game easily, finishing has been its Achilles heel. No team has taken better advantage of it this season than Real San Jose.
Four of San Jose's six goals against Sacramento in 2015 have come on a counter-attack, after the Gold has maintained possession for a while and its defense is stretched. Speed has indeed killed, as San Jose's quick forwards have become a menace for Gold defenders.
It's John Madden/Magic Johnson-esque analysis to say if the Gold simply finished all their chances, they'd win every game. No team is perfect, meaning San Jose will have chances to strike again on the counter-attack. The Gold's defense must play smart in these instances and not get forced into one-on-one situations where they're running backwards. They're going to lose if they do.
A Must-Win for Both Teams
The loser of tomorrow night's matchup will see its playoff dreams come to an end. Sonoma sits comfortable atop the Golden Gate Conference at 21 points with three games remaining. CD Aguiluchos lies in second with 19 points and three games remaining. With two games left for each, Sacramento and San Jose are back in third and fourth with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
Should Sacramento falter against San Jose, it will be highly unlikely to catch Aguiluchos, who would then need to lose its last three games to give Sacramento a chance. Even if Sacramento beats San Jose, it would need for Aguiluchos to lose to either the last-place San Francisco Stompers or the first-place Sol to have a chance in the season finale. San Jose, meanwhile, would be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to Sacramento.
A lot is on the line Saturday night. With a lot to play for and every matchup critical, each point won or lost is invaluable. Can Sacramento redeem itself and keep its playoff hopes alive? We'll find out Saturday at 7 p.m. at Capital Christian High School.