Sacramento Gold FC is off to the Beaver State for its longest road trip of the NPSL regular season. Sacramento is hoping a change of scenery will help change its luck on the field. But, the Gold will be facing a team one game away from clinching a playoff spot.. Here's a preview of tomorrow night's game.
If the playoffs started this weekend, Sacramento would find itself in an uncommon position: on the outside looking in. A five-game losing streak has the Gold sitting in fourth place in the Golden Gate Conference, with only the top three moving on to the postseason. Since the Gold's debut season of 2010, the club has only missed out on postseason play once (2012, on goal differential). To avoid a potential repeat of four years ago, Sacramento needs points in a place where, historically, they've been hard to come by.
Across all-time competitive action, the Gold has played seven games outside of the State of California. Sacramento won the first three, all coming during its first season -- a regular season win over the Southern Oregon Fuego and victories over then-FC Sonic Lehigh Valley and Chattanooga FC to win the 2010 National Championship. Since then, however, the Gold has only struck it rich once in the four games, the lone win coming during last season's back-and-forth 4-3 win over then-FC Tacoma 253. To further its playoff aspirations, Sacramento will have to get another one in a place which has given it nothing but problems.
For the Sacramento Gold, there certainly hasn't been any pity in the Rose City. Twice, crossing the border into Oregon has resulted in tough losses. The first came in the opening round of the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, when the Gold took a 2-0 lead over the Portland Timbers' U-23 squad, only to fall 3-2. The second was against tomorrow's opponent: the Portland Spartans. Despite controlling most of the game and getting a late goal, Sacramento left with a 2-1 loss.
The lack of success against Portland goes further: the Sacramento Gold has never beaten a team based out of Portland (the Southern Oregon Fuego was based in Medford). Aside from the two mentioned above, the only other game against Portland also took place last year against these same Spartans. Before their Rose City clash, the two clubs battled it out in Sacramento, each team coming away with a point in a 1-1 draw. Heading into a fourth competition against a Portland club and a third against the Spartans, the Gold is looking through a breakthrough win, which could not come at a better time.
To get that breakthrough win, Sacramento will look to solve a problem which plagued it against Portland last season and has bitten again this year: counter attacking. All three goals the Gold let in against the Spartans last season came directly from losing possession in the offensive third of the field. In the first matchup, the Gold had a dangerous free kick in the 30th minute. One minute (and a missed header, bad pressure, and inability to clear the defensive line) later, Sacramento was down 1-0.
The second meeting had two, nearly carbon copy examples of its own. Throughout the game, Sacramento maintained control of the possession and created good chances, none of them going in. Then, in the 32nd and 67th minutes, the Spartans took the ball on the counter down the sidelines, crossed it into the box, and had their forward put in the net. Negating this is the responsibility of both side of the ball. The offense must finish its chances to lift pressure off the defense. The defense must remain disciplined and communicate well to avoid any slip-ups. Not doing so could put the Gold in a hole it cannot get out of.
Playoffs on the Mind
Even with its recent, dismal results, Sacramento still has control of its playoff destiny. In fact, with the new playoff format, Saturday could be a playoff preview, complete with time and place. Should the Gold get positive results from its final three games, a third place finish in the Golden Gate Conference could match Sacramento up against the Spartans in the first round, should Portland take care of business and clinch the Northwest Conference title.
For the Spartans, taking care of business would be easier with a win over the Gold. Regardless of tomorrow's result, one win over its final two games against OSA FC would Portland in the playoffs. What would be a difference is, with a win over Sacramento, Portland would only need a draw against their Pacific Northwest rivals to bring the playoffs to the Rose City. Will they get it done and put the pressure squarely on their final opponent? Will Sacramento finally find a breakthrough in Portland and break its long losing streak? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 18 at Delta Park.