The long offseason is finally over. Sacramento Gold FC kicks off the 2016 National Premier Soccer League season against Real San Jose. Last season, it was San Jose who reversed the historical trend and took two of three from Sacramento. The Gold looks to put everything back in order and get the season off to a winning start. Here's a preview of tomorrow night's game.
Ringing in the Season
While Sacramento Gold FC's regular season opener has always been set for Saturday, Real San Jose has already seen some action. The club traveled to San Diego to face one of the NPSL's new clubs, Albion SC Pros, in a friendly. Though San Jose lost 1-0, Albion went on to defeat the USL's Los Angeles Galaxy II 2-1. Not exactly a tomato can.
San Jose was supposed to kick off their regular season last Saturday on the road against CD Aguiluchos USA. However, stormy weather forced the postponement of the game, meaning Saturday night's matchup will be the season opener for both teams. In addition, the West Region is the first to begin its schedule, with the Golden Gate Conference being the first to start. This means Sacramento vs. San Jose won't only be the season opener for both teams, but the first regular season game in the entire NPSL season.
New Arrivals to the Scene
When the Gold takes the field for the first time in 2016, they will have a different look than in seasons past. This isn't to say things will be completely different. Veterans such as John Connolly, Manolo Pina, Cuco Martinez, Fernando De Alba, and Rene Pina will once again occupy Sacramento's starting lineup and sidelines.
However, there are several new additions expected to help Sacramento return to the national stage. Former Major League Soccer draft pick Chimdum Mez joins the Gold after playing at Sacramento State. Fellow Hornet Alex Bettencourt brings even more speed and skill to the wing. Stockton's Javier Grajeda looks to add another anchor to Sacramento's back line. Plus, while not technically a newcomer, Diego De Alba returns to the squad after missing last season due to injury. With this roster of young prospects, new arrivals, and veteran leaders, Sacramento seeks another title run.
While Sacramento has dominated San Jose historically, Real turned the tables last season. Including a U.S. Open Cup qualifying game, San Jose won two of three games against the Gold in 2015. The fatal mistake for Sacramento was overcommitting on the offensive half, while the key for San Jose was their fast and efficient counter attack.
To avoid a repeat of last season, the Gold must be able to stop the deadly counter attack. Of course, the best way to prevent a counter attack is to drop all 10 field players back to the defensive half after scoring a goal. However, not every shot will go in, and San Jose will have some opportunities to counter. Their speedy forwards and wingers haven't gotten any slower, so it will be key for Sacramento's back line to communicate and defend the counter attack smartly. If not, the Gold could be left in the dust.
Looking for Another Hot Start
Both teams began the 2015 season on a white hot run. Sacramento won each of its first three games to take an early lead in the Golden Gate Conference standings. However, they lost game four. The team that won, Real San Jose, climbed to the top of the standings. Even so, both teams hit a snag in the middle of the season. Sacramento was able to recover and make the playoffs. San Jose did not.
Sacramento and San Jose are looking for a repeat of the first third of the season. Both are also facing a tough road game in the second game of the season (Sonoma County Sol for Sacramento, Aguiluchos for San Jose). Some momentum from an opening day win could prove to be vital in the second game. In addition, the Gold will be looking to set the trend back to how it has been historically: Sacramento dominance. San Jose would like to keep it the way it is. Who will start the 2016 regular season on the right foot? We'll find out Saturday, March 19 at 7 p.m. at Capital Christian High School.