Tomorrow night, Sacramento Gold FC goes for back-to-back NPSL West Region titles when they take on CD Aguiluchos at Capital Christian High School. The 4-seed Gold and 6-seed CDA will also be battling for a spot in the national semifinals and a shot at the 2015 championship.
It will be the third time the two clubs have met this season, with Sacramento winning the second matchup after the Gold and CDA fought (somewhat literally) to a draw in the first game. The third promises be as memorable, with everything in the West at stake. Both teams have gone through different, yet strangely similar paths to the regional title game. Here's a preview of Saturday night's game.
GG Conf: 2nd
Goals Scored: 28 (6)
Goals Against: 19 (3)
Points per Game: 1.92
Last 5 Games: L-W-W-W-W
Head-to-Head (2015): 1-0-1
GG Conf: 3rd
Goals Scored: 28 (6)
Goals Against: 18 (2)
Points per Game: 1.83
Last 5 Games: W-L-L-W-W
Head-to-Head (2015): 0-1-1
Mutual Drama, Dominance
Both Sacramento and Aguiluchos had to take the long way to get to the regional final. The Gold, due to its second place finish in the Golden Gate Conference, earned the 4-seed and a home game in the regional quarterfinals. Aguiluchos, the 6-seed and wild card spot, had to travel to Southern California for their quarterfinal matchup.
Despite their different roads to the final, the two teams had to go through similar hurdles to reach Saturday night's game. Sacramento had its hands full with 5-seed FC Tacoma 253, trailing twice and being sent down a man thanks to a red card late in the second half. Nonetheless, the Gold was able to score in extra time and hold on for the late win. In the regional semifinals, Sacramento traveled to SoCal and upset the 2-seed San Diego Flash in a clear cut 3-1 performance.
Aguiluchos, meanwhile started their playoff campaign with a 4-0 romping of 3-seed Deportivo Coras USA U-23 in the quarterfinals. CDA then had to travel for a tough matchup against the 1-seed Sonoma County Sol. Despite losing a man in the second half due a red card, Aguiluchos came back to tie the game and send it to extras. After overcoming another deficit, Aguiluchos forced penalty kicks, where they upset the top-seeded Sol 2-2 (9-8) after a dramatic 12-round shootout.
Golden Gate Again
The 2015 West Region Final features two Northern California-based clubs: Sacramento and Aguiluchos (Oakland). With 12 teams--five from NorCal, five from SoCal, two from the Pacific Northwest--competing in the region, it may seem like an anomaly for two teams from the same general geographic location to reach the final in a spread-out region. But, it was actually become an anomaly for it not to happen.
Four straight West Region finals have been all-NorCal affairs. 2012 featured the Bay Area Ambassadors topping the Sol in their final year of existence. 2013 and 2014 saw a pair of Sonoma-Sacramento duels, with the two rivals splitting the contests. The last year a non-NorCal team won the West was 2011, when the Hollywood Hitmen reached the NPSL title game. Interestingly, the Hitmen played in the Northwest Flight (with all the NorCal teams) that season.
The Golden Gate Conference's success isn't a fluke. Those West winners don't get there without a reason, and don't stop winning once they get to nationals. The Golden Gate has two national champions, two runner-ups, and two national semifinalists in the past six seasons. Those teams' roads to nationals have been a mix of unexpected and dominance, with undefeated seasons and upset-filled runs included. Northern California's historic consistence in a league which stretches from coast to coast should be celebrated.
When two teams who are already familiar with each other meet in the playoffs, it often comes down to new tweaks and additions to make a difference. The Gold already experienced this against them when Tacoma's new players nearly led to an early exit for Sacramento. However, it was a Gold player not familiar with Tacoma who proved to be the difference. That same player also has not faced Aguiluchos yet this season.
Jason Jones has brought a new wrinkle to the Gold offense since returning from injury late in the regular season. Since then, he's been the focal point of the Gold offense, with his ability to win the aerial battle and distribute to open teammates proving vital for Sacramento. Jones has scored four of the Gold's six goals so far in these playoffs, with two in each of the first two games He'll be called upon again in the regional final.
If Jones gets rolling again, the title will be Sacramento's to lose. He doesn't even need to score, as his passing ability has arguably been as valuable. If he can be contained by Aguiluchos' defense, it may be another recent addition who Sacramento will fall back on. In his first game of this season for Sacramento (which happened to be the regular season finale), Nico Gonzalez scored a hat trick in eight minutes. The opponent? CD Aguiluchos USA.
History, or Breakthrough?
Sacramento has been to three straight West Region finals, winning in 2014 after coming up short in extra time the year prior. Since the Gold entered the league in 2010, no team from the West Region has made it to two straight national semifinals. A second consecutive win in a regional final Saturday will put the Gold in the history books with another shot to add to its legacy in August.
While the Golden Gate has been a constant presence at the national level, the success has largely fallen on two teams: Sacramento and Sonoma. In fact, it would have been a third-straight Gold-Sol West final had not been for the underdog Aguiluchos topping Sonoma. CDA, in its first ever postseason, has already pulled off the two biggest wins in its history. Another one tomorrow night would not only be a breakthrough for the club, but for parity in the West as well.
Regardless of whichever team wears this year's West crown, the winner of the final will make history on a national scale. Since 2010, a useful stat for predicting which teams will make it far is points per game, with victories gaining three points and draws one. Divide total points by number of games played, and there's your average.
Since Sacramento's inaugural season, the magic number has been 2.00. Of the 20 teams to make the final four in that span, 19 have had a points per game average of at least 2.00. This season, the Northeast, Midwest, and South Region winners are guaranteed to have an average of over 2.00. However, Sacramento's 2015 average is 1.92, while Aguiluchos has 1.83, meaning whoever wins will be only the second team in that span to make the national semifinals under the magic number. According to history, however, the winner shouldn't worry about its chances. The only other team to do it was Jacksonville United FC in 2011. Jacksonville won the title that season.
Who will make history tomorrow night? Will it be Sacramento claiming back-to-back regional titles? Will it be Aguiluchos making a first trip to the national semifinals? Be sure to be at Capital Christian High School on Saturday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. at Capital Christian High School to find out.