The playoffs are upon us! Sacramento Gold FC, who earned the West Region's 4-seed thanks to a second place finish in the Golden Gate Conference, gets its postseason campaign underway tomorrow night when they host 5-seed FC Tacoma 253, the Northwest Conference champs.
It will be the third time these two teams have played this season, with Sacramento winning the two previous matchups. But, the Gold will have to be at their best to make it three. Both teams have changed a lot since the last matchup. Plus, the third win is always the hardest to get. Here's a preview of Saturday night's game.
GG Conf: 2nd
Goals Scored: 28
Goals Against: 19
Points per Game: 1.92
Last 5 Games: W-W-L-W-W
Head-to-Head (2015): 2-0
NW Conf: 1st
Goals Scored: 23
Goals Against: 25
Points per Game: 1.08
Last 5 Games: L-L-W-W-W
Head-to-Head (2015): 0-2
Goals, Goals, Goals
If the first two matchups are anything to go by, this playoff game will feature goals aplenty. Sacramento tallied three in the first game, with two goals from Josue Araiza to power the Gold. The second game was a wild, back-and-forth seven-goal shoot-out which featured scores in the first and 86th minutes. Sacramento ended up winning 4-3 thanks to Manolo Piña's hat trick.
The scoring isn't inclusive to the teams' head-to-head matchups. Since the latest meeting, Sacramento has scored 10 goals in their last four games (three wins), with only one game featuring less than three goals for the Gold. Tacoma, meanwhile, has been even more impressive, scoring 11 goals in their final three games (all wins), with nine goals in the first two. Expect fireworks Saturday night.
Sacramento and Tacoma both came into their second matchup in a funk. It's the exact opposite case this time around. The Gold kept momentum from the win, taking three of their final four games for a strong playoff push. The last two were of particular importance. Sacramento's win over Real San Jose clinched a playoff spot, while its victory over CD Aguiluchos USA gave the Gold a home playoff game in the first round. The Gold won both games 3-1.
All three of Tacoma's final games were must-wins. With only four points after the second loss to Sacramento, Tacoma needed to defeat conference rival Portland Spartans FC twice to have a hope of the postseason. They did just that, dropping five goals in a 5-3 road win and (after spanking San Jose 4-1) topping the Spartans 2-0 to clinch the crown. Both teams have plenty of positive energy and rest going into the playoffs.
With both teams already familiar with each other, it's going to take something new to break through. Key to Tacoma's late surge were two Italian imports: Enrico Antonioni and Gianmarco Peressini. The duo has come into their own late and given an edge which could throw Sacramento for a loop. Couple them with some late arrivals, and the Gold will be facing a very different Tacoma team.
Sacramento also features a few new faces which have given the Gold's already impressive depth a bigger boost. Nate Nugen, who came on as a sub during the second Tacoma game, has wreaked havoc up top with relentless pressure and an acute ability to hold the ball. Nico Gonzalez, who made his debut in the regular season finale, only scored a hat trick in eight minutes.
Both teams already have established strengths and stars which have kept the clubs moving forward all season. Whichever group of recent additions can best show off their team's new wrinkle will be the difference in the third matchup.
Third Win's the Toughest
Sacramento has already defeated Tacoma twice, scoring at least three goals each time and winning by a two-goal margin when the two met at Capital Christian High School, the site of Saturday's playoff showdown. So why get worried or even play the game? Sacramento will win, obviously.
Except, it's not quite so obvious. Sacramento has been on the reverse side of this situation twice in the last two years. 2015 began with a 3-0 loss at home to San Jose in U.S. Open Cup qualifying. San Jose proved it wasn't a fluke with a 3-1 win in the Bay Area, with their lone blemish being an own goal. So what happened in the third matchup? The Gold won 3-1 and knocked San Jose out of playoff contention.
Last year, the Sonoma County Sol dominated Sacramento, shutting out the Gold twice to close out the regular season. In fact, the Sol hadn't lost to the Gold once in the last two seasons. So when the two met for the West Region title, many expected another dominant Sonoma win. What happened? Sacramento won 2-0, captured the West Region title, and knocked Sonoma out of the playoffs.
This scenario is not unique to American minor league soccer. From youth and non-competitive sports to the biggest leagues in the most popular sports around the world, history is littered with instances of teams bucking the trend and beating opponents they have lost to have no business beating, particularly in the postseason. After all, what's Rule No. 1 in sports? Anything can happen. Sacramento has to be in the proper mindset and give the necessary effort to make sure it doesn't.
Of course, it's the playoffs, so there should be no need to seek more motivation. A win gets you closer to your dream, while a loss ends your season. Both of these explosive teams will bring the firepower into their playoff matchup, which has all the makings of a classic. Be sure to be at Capital Christian High School when Sacramento Gold FC and FC Tacoma 253 kick the playoffs off Saturday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Capital Christian High School.