Preview: Rivalry Renewed

Sacramento Gold FC packs its bags for the first time in 2016 as the club begins its road schedule. The opponent is one well familiar to Sacramento: the Sonoma County Sol. The Gold and Sol will kick off the seventh year of their rivalry, with their newest clash (despite being so early in the season) being as crucial as always. Here's a preview of tomorrow night's game.

So, We Meet Again

The West Region's most successful clubs are back at it, trying to add even more titles to their resumes. The two clubs have each won a national championship, with at least one taking part in every West Region Final since 2007. In fact, only one other current West Region team has even made the NPSL National Semifinals (CD Aguiluchos USA), and they had to get through both Sonoma and Sacramento to get there.

Last year, the two clubs only played each other twice, the least yearly amount since the Gold debuted in 2010. Even so, last year's games were examples of how evenly-matched the clubs have been. Like last year, the Gold's second game of the season was on the road against the Sol. Sacramento scored all four goals (including an own goal) in a 3-1 win. Two months later, Sonoma made the trip to California's Capitol City and drove home with a 3-1 victory. To recap: two games, two 3-1 wins by the road team. This year, three games are scheduled, with two in Sonoma.

Rest vs. Recency

Despite the evenness described above, Sacramento and Sonoma had quite different preseasons. Sonoma got together early and played several preseason games, including professional teams San Jose Earthquake and Sacramento Republic FC (losing both). Meanwhile, Sacramento met up a month later and, while playing many closed-door scrimmages, did not play a full game until last weekend's season opener.

The effects of those different strategies could be very apparent Saturday night, though perhaps not in the way people might think. While Sonoma's squad has played more full games this year, their most recent game was nearly a month ago. In contrast, Sacramento's second full game of 2016 will only be a week after its first. In the end, it comes down to the classic battle of rest vs. recency. Whichever ends up playing more of a factor in the match could give one of the clubs a critical edge in grabbing some early points.

Key Matchup

Early last year, Sonoma's one area of uncertainty appeared to be between the pipes. Between suspensions, injuries, and subpar performances, Sonoma had trouble with goalkeepers early on. However, beginning with a strong performance against the Republic in last year's U.S. Open Cup, Arturo Ornelas brought stability to the Sol defense, helping Sonoma earn the No. 1 seed in the West Region Playoffs.

With Ornelas returning as net minder for 2016, Sacramento will have to convert on its chances. In last week's season opener against Real San Jose, Manolo Piña and Jose Martinez created many dangerous opportunities, with Chimdum Mez adding his own fireworks up front. Even so, Jonathan Arellano kept Sacramento off the scoreboard. To avoid a similar fate, the Gold offense will need to be more accurate (and have better luck) against Sonoma. If not, Ornelas could put Sacramento in an unwanted position.

Points Needed Early

The NPSL regular season consists of 14 games. Last year, in the 12-game regular season, the Gold lost three and drew to more. Despite this, Sacramento was able to fight and earn the No. 4 seed in the West Region Playoffs, even hosting two postseason games. So, should Sacramento fall to Sonoma Saturday night and record their second loss in as many games, it would not mathematically be a death blow to the season.

However, a loss would mean Sacramento would have to live on a razor's edge for the rest of the season. Three points -- whether they come at the start, in the middle, or at the end of the season -- are always invaluable. To start 0-2 in any season is bad news which the Gold cannot afford. Though it's certainly possible to play postseason ball after losing the first two games, getting points early would be much, much more preferable. Can the Gold get it done in enemy territory? We'll find out Saturday, March 26 at 7 p.m. at Santa Rosa High School.