Sacramento Gold FC is taking a break from NPSL competition and diving into the 2016 U.S. Open Cup. Sacramento will play host for the first time in an Open Cup while looking for its first ever win in the tournament. To do so, they'll need to tame a massive beast standing in their way. Here's a preview of tomorrow night's game.
Which Rest is Best?
Teams participating in tournaments outside of league play face the prospect of having multiple games each week. While both Sacramento and Burlingame are facing this reality this week, the two got here in different ways. The Gold's NPSL regular season schedule began on March 19 and is already halfway over, with at least one game each week (with the exception of the April 9 weekend). Sacramento will have had only four days of rest going into tomorrow night's game, having played a road game against CD Aguiluchos USA this past Saturday.
Burlingame, meanwhile, did not begin its PDL regular season until this past Friday, though the preseason schedule was eight games long. However, they're making up for lost time. The Dragons played two games last weekend -- both on the road -- one on Friday (a 1-0 win over the Fresno Fuego) and another on Sunday (a 4-0 drubbing of Los Angeles Laguna). A third game in five days (all on the road) could prove to be quite tiring, even at the beginning of the season. But, will it prove to be more tiring than having already played half a season's schedule, as well as two games in only four days?
Fatigue is one of several factors at play in the notoriously unpredictable real of non-league play. It's part of what makes the U.S. Open Cup such an exciting tournament. The tournament is the one time each year clubs at different levels can play each other for something at stake other than a practice game result. Though the no professional teams enter until the Second Round, the First Round matchups between amateur clubs provide intrigue and interest. Sacramento vs. Burlingame is one such matchup, due in part to the leagues they're in.
The fourth tier of the American Soccer Pyramid is made up of two leagues: the NPSL (Gold) and the PDL (Dragons). Nine First Round matchups of this year's tournament are NPSL vs. PDL, bringing the total up to 36 in the past five tournaments. PDL clubs have a 15-12 edge over this time period, but NPSL clubs went 5-4 against their fellow fourth tier foes last year. Both leagues are relatively young, with the PDL being founded in 1995 with the NPSL coming along eight years later. Both have a large number of clubs, the NPSL with 85 members and the PDL at 67. Though these matchups are rare, the evenness of talent, size, and style between the two often produce fireworks on the field.
With so many unknowns floating above a matchup between two clubs which have never faced each other before, it's fitting that the end result could very well be decided by whoever is best in the air. Headers, particularly off set pieces, have been used as a weapon both for and against the Gold to great effect. Last weekend's game was a prime example. Sacramento scored twice (including the game-tying goal) using the head, but gave up two (including the game-winner) on headed balls as well.
As for the latter, the Gold will need to improve greatly against Burlingame. The Dragons are a big team with big forwards who can score big goals thanks to big verticals. Add in big defender Josh Smith's ability to join the attack and influence the offense in the air, and it's an even realer threat. Gold goalkeeper John Connolly, as well as taller defenders Fernando De Alba and Zach Ulrich,will have to use their heads wisely and effectively. On the other side of the field, Sacramento will need to give Burlingame a taste of its own medicine. Forward Chimdum Mez must use his height to help direct the Gold offense and open up the opposing defense.
Looking for Win No. 1
The winner of tomorrow night's matchup will make history and earn a bit of redemption. Both Sacramento and Burlingame are 0-1 in their U.S. Open Cup history. In 2013, the Gold held a 2-0 lead over the Portland Timbers' U-23 squad, but wound up losing by a final count of 3-2. Last year, the Dragons held a late 1-0 lead over the Sonoma County Sol, but lost 2-1 after extra time after giving up a tying goal in stoppage time. Sacramento and Burlingame each feel like they let one get away, and vow not to make the same mistake this year.
In addition, the winner could also get a much-desired matchup in the next round. Potential Second Round opponents include the Timbers' U-23 squad. Burlingame could get an opportunity to earn valuable bragging rights over a PDL Western Conference foe. Sacramento, meanwhile, would get to return to the scene of its 2013 loss and possibly flip the result. Only one will get their wish. Who will get their first Open Cup win and appearance in the Second Round. Who will see their 2016 Open Cup campaign come to a disappointingly early end. We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 11 at Capital Christian High School.