After an extra day of rest, Sacramento Gold FC is back in action and back on the road, where four of its next five games will take place. With the end of the NPSL regular season looming, Sacramento is hungry for three much-needed points. To get them, they'll have to get past a squad making a playoff push of their own. Here's a preview of tomorrow night's game.
Looking to Bounce Back
The Gold's early season roll has slowed down to a crawl. Sacramento has lost three of its last four games across all competitions, including the past two NPSL games. The most recent result against OSA FC can basically be described using Murphy's Law: everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Playing on one day's rest, Gold players were drenched before kickoff due to a heavy downpour. After kickoff, Sacramento saw three goals go in its net, two of its players sent off, and one of its worst performances in recent memory.
Sacramento had an extra day of rest following its only Friday game of the season, hopefully helping bring about a bounce back performance tomorrow night. The Gold will need it, as its spot on top of the Golden Gate Conference has become crowded. Its points lead has been erased, and the Gold is now tied for first with CD Aguiluchos USA, each with 15 points and a +7 goal differential (though Sacramento has a game in hand. The Sonoma County Sol has also fought back to get within striking distance, sitting in third with 10 points and a game in hand on Sacramento. In addition, there is a fourth team, on a roll of its own and standing directly in Sacramento's path.
The East Bay Stompers are coming in hot and looking to get hotter. Though the Stompers are in fourth place with only eight points and no goal differential, they've taken points from their last three games and are the only team in the Golden Gate Conference currently on a winning streak. Though their season got off to a strong start with a 2-0 win over Real San Jose, the Stompers lost their next three games (including one against Sacramento), though they were all close and competitive.
However, they've since made a run to put them close to uncharted territory. After a 2-2 draw with San Jose, the Stompers held Aguiluchos to a 1-1 tie and could have pulled out a late winner if not for a near miss. They followed it up with their most impressive performance on the season, a 3-1 road win over Sonoma. The Stompers -- in their fifth year in the NPSL -- have never been to the postseason. At eight points and with half of its regular season schedule remaining, East Bay sits only two points back of the third and final playoff spot for the Golden Gate Conference. Having gotten this close, they won't want to suffer a setback Saturday
Saturday's game could come down to an part of the field where the Stompers are growing and the Gold is facing a deficit. East Bay has been getting a strong performance from of its returning stars: Khalid Arramdani. The Moroccan-born forward has scored three times in the past two games, including two against Sonoma. Arramdani, coupled with dangerous strikers Jovian Amirkiai and Charlie Swann have made the Stompers offense an even greater threat to opponents.
The Gold defense will have to contend with this potency and efficiency short-handed. In its last game, Sacramento's two red cards were issued to defenders: Danny Mititelu and Rene Piña. While they each serve a one-game suspension, the Gold will be down a usual starter (Piña) and a strong, skilled substitute (Mititelu). Saturday night, Sacramento's defensive line will have to contend with East Bay's dangerous attack while featuring an unfamiliar combination and with little support from the bench. It will take an exceptionally strong performance, but it the Gold defense is up to the task, it could give the offense enough support to pull out a much-needed win.
As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, the ice underneath your feet gets thinner. It's also true with Sacramento and East Bay, who both can see the end of the NPSL regular season around the corner. At this stage, any slip up can drop you in the standings and cost you a playoff spot. Sacramento got a break this past weekend with the two closest teams -- Aguiluchos and Sonoma -- also suffering losses. Another missed opportunity, and the Gold won't be so lucky.
Three teams from the Golden Gate Conference will earn spots in the 2016 NPSL Playoffs. Sacramento is currently seven points clear of East Bay, the fourth place team. A win would not only help keep the Gold in first, but also go a long way to clinching a playoff spot. A Stompers victory would cut the deficit and, with certain other results, put them in position to make their first ever playoffs. Will the Gold bounce back with a strong road performance? Will East Bay continue its recent run and put the traditional conference powers on notice? We'll find out at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 28 at CSU East Bay's Pioneer Stadium.