Preview: High Stakes in Santa Rosa

Sacramento Gold FC is eager to rebound from a miserable May and begin a joyous June. Despite a tough losing streak, Sacramento is still in control of its own destiny, with a chance for a historic win Saturday. But, a bad result against its rival would make life a lot more difficult for the Gold. Here's a preview of tomorrow night's game.

Heading in Opposite Directions

The last time these two rivals met, Sacramento was looking to keep its hot start to the season going, while Sonoma was trying to rebound from an unexpectedly unsuccessful beginning. Once the final whistle blew, the Gold walked away with an astounding 5-1 win over the Sol, the largest margin of victory in any game between the two teams. Sacramento was in position to put the Golden Gate Conference in a stranglehold, while Sonoma was in danger of missing the playoffs. What a difference a month can make.

Sacramento's win remains its most recent league victory -- more than 30 days later. The Gold lost all three of its NPSL games (and four of five games overall) in the month of May and saw its once large points lead erased to a tie for first. Meanwhile, Sonoma's May was lovely, seeing the Sol win two of three league games and putting the team just two points back of the Gold for first place. In addition, due to an earlier game against Real San Jose being postponed due to rain, Sonoma has a game in hand on Sacramento. A win would put the Sol in first place -- a shocking scenario in April. But, a loss would complete a historic feat -- for Sacramento.

Historic Golden Sweep?

Since 2010 (the Gold's first year in the NPSL), Sacramento and Sonoma have always had a closely contested rivalry, one which neither team has been able to get a real hold of for long. The most dominant streak came between 2012-14, when Sacramento did not record a win over the Sol (despite a few draws). However, the streak was ended when it counted most: the West Region title game. A perfect example of this closeness: last year, the two teams went 1-1 against each other, each winning by a score of 3-1.

Neither team has ever swept all three games in one season (Sonoma did win both games in 2012), which isn't surprising, considering the quality of both teams and the fact that draws are an option in soccer. A win over their rivals Saturday, and Sacramento would be the first to accomplish this feat. The Gold won the first contest, 2-0 shutout in Santa Rosa, the venue for tomorrow's showdown. The scene then shifted to Sacramento, where the home squad won in the dominant fashion mentioned above. A third win would cap an incredible achievement (though the teams could meet for a fourth time in the playoffs) for the Gold. It would also be very welcome, considering the circumstances.

Key Matchup

In both wins, Sacramento's key to success has been its defense, which has kept the potent Sonoma offense at bay. The first game saw John Connolly parry away any shots which managed to sneak past the Gold's wall of a defensive line. The second showcased how the Gold's defenders can help generate offense as well. But, Sacramento will be a bit short on defense Saturday, with Rene Piña still serving a red card suspension. The shortage also comes as an familiar, unfriendly face returns to the Sol lineup.

Omar Nuno is back, and back to his goal scoring ways. The Sol forward has speed, size, and skill, making him a tough opponent for any defender -- even professional ones -- to stop (remember, Nuno scored twice against Sacramento Republic FC during last year's U.S. Open Cup). With suspensions and injuries leaving the Sacramento defense a bit depleted, the remaining squad will have to deal with Nuno, in addition to the rest of the dangerous Sonoma offense. Their ability to do so will go a long way to determining whether the Gold leaves with a historic sweep over their rivals or leaves control of the Golden Gate Conference behind.

Still in Control... for now

Despite Sacramento's losing streak, the Gold is still in first place (a tie with CD Aguiluchos USA) in the conference standings. However, the losses have eliminated all lifelines and space between the rest of the clubs. While both Sacramento and CDA each have 15 points, Sonoma is close behind at 13. The East Bay Stompers have also made a run, sitting at 11 points. Though Sonoma and East Bay both have a game in hand, Sacramento can still determine its own destiny in the quest for the conference crown.

However, a loss (or even a draw) tomorrow night will take the control away and give it to Sonoma, who (if they win out) would finish ahead of the Gold no matter what. A loss could also put Sacramento dangerously close to out of the playoffs. With games against CDA and East Bay remaining, a win over Sonoma would not secure the Gold's safety. But, it would be the first step to restoring order and keeping Sacramento in line for first place. Will the Gold bounce back with its first ever sweep of the Sol? Will Sonoma prevent history, continue Sacramento's misery, and seize control of the conference? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 4 at Santa Rosa High School.