Preview: Back at it

Sacramento Gold FC returns from the first bye week of the 2016 NPSL season looking to extend their early lead atop the Golden Gate Conference. To do so, they will need to beat the team which gave the Gold its only blemish so far this season. Can Sacramento get another bit off revenge? Here's a preview of tomorrow night's game.

Protecting Home Turf

Sacramento's schedule has been kind to those who prefer the comforts of home. Saturday will mark the fourth game of the season and the third played at the Gold's home stadium at Capital Christian High School. In addition, the one away game came after one of the shortest (by distance) road trips the team will make this season. The friendly confines have also given Sacramento an unintended advantage in avoiding some wet weather a few miles down south (we'll get to that later).

However, the slope will soon start to become uphill for the Gold. After tomorrow night's game, six of Sacramento's next nine games are on the road, including a trip to Portland in June. Throw in the start of the 2016 U.S. Open Cup in May, and Sacramento may need to channel their inner Mad Max as the calendar turns from Spring to Summer. Knowing the strain of the season will soon become more severe, it's important for the Gold to pick up as many points as possible when it has an advantage. In addition, no one like to lose, especially at home. Sacramento needs to protect their home turf and make sure it's a place all opponents fear entering.

Of Rust and Rain

When we last saw Sacramento, the Gold had just topped CD Aguiluchos USA in a 5-3 Game of the Week thriller. This, coupled with a much-welcomed 2-0 road win against the Sonoma County Sol the week before, gave Sacramento some needed momentum. Cue bye week. Two weeks of no game action threaten to make the Gold rusty and derail the early momentum. However, at least Sacramento's break in the season was intentional and planned for.

So far this season, two Golden Gate Conference games have been postponed due to rainy weather: the would-be season-opener between Aguiluchos and Real San Jose on March 12, and a clash between Sonoma and San Jose last week. The team impact by both delays is the very team Sacramento will face Saturday. San Jose, like Sacramento, will have to deal with two weeks of no games, though their potential rust comes from water. In addition, San Jose's last game was a 2-0 loss to the East Bay Stompers in Real's home opener. They've had two weeks to stew and plan to change their momentum.

Key Matchup

Although, San Jose would best be served to not change a single thing from their first match against Sacramento. In the actual season-opener at Capital Christian, the Gold came out firing, striking the post a few times and putting the San Jose defense under siege. However, it was San Jose who would win 1-0, thanks to a breakaway goal on a counter attack. Their win was also thanks to a Man of the Match performance by one of the best goalkeepers in the entire NPSL.

Jonathan Arellano turned in a playoff-worthy performance in just the first week of the season. Several times throughout the game, when it looked like Sacramento would surely put the ball in the back of the net, Arellano managed to get a hand or foot or other body part in front of the ball and deflect it away. To redeem its home-opener loss, Sacramento must get by Arellano. The Gold offense scored seven goals in its next two games, with forward Jose Martinez earning the first Mitre Player of the Week award with two goals and an assist against Aguiluchos. Martinez and the rest of the Gold offense need to be in top form to get one by Arellano.

Building, Keeping a Lead

Last season, Sacramento won its first three games and built an early lead atop the Golden Gate Conference. However, a loss in the fourth game sent the Gold into a dismal middle of the season. While Sacramento rebounded late to earn a playoff spot and eventually make its third straight West Region title game, it was not as conference champs. Meanwhile, the team which gave Sacramento its first loss took the top conference spot for a while before a late slide pushed them out of the playoff picture.

That team? Real San Jose. Though there are a few differences, tomorrow night's matchup presents an eerily similar situation: San Jose threatening to take Sacramento's early top spot in the conference. However, both teams will look for a different end result. Sacramento will look to win the second time around and keep its Golden Gate lead. San Jose, meanwhile, wants to earn another win, move into the top spot, and keep it this time. Only one team will get the chance to follow their desired path. Who will it be? We'll find out Saturday, April 16 at 7 p.m. at Capital Christian High School.