Preview: It's been a While

Sacramento Gold FC has broken its losing streak and is hoping to start a new, winning one. That quest starts on the road, for the last away game of the 2016 NPSL regular season. The Gold will be facing a team aiming to stop their own losing streak and knock Sacramento out of a playoff position. Here's a preview of tomorrow night's game.

Long Time, No See

Sacramento Gold FC and Real San Jose got used to each other in the beginning of the season, facing off twice in the first four games (a span of less than one month). However, Saturday will be the first time these two have seen one another in over two months, with the Gold playing ten games across competitions since then. The last game, a 3-0 Gold win, was enough to keep Sacramento above San Jose atop the Golden Gate Conference standings. Things have changed quite a bit since then.

Though Sacramento is no longer in first place, it's still in a playoff position, having broken its five-game losing streak with a 1-0 win in Portland last week. San Jose, however, has completely fallen off, now on a five-game losing streak of its own and eliminated from playoff contention with only five points on the season. The losses include an 8-1 pummeling by CD Aguiluchos USA and last weekend's 13-1 annihilation by the Sonoma County Sol. While San Jose won't play past the regular season, it has one objective remaining: wreck the playoff standing of every team it faces. This is bad news for the Gold, as San Jose has been oddly successful at it.

Pull out the Thorn

Last weekend, Sacramento got a peculiar monkey off its back, winning for the first time both in Portland and against a team from the Rose City. But, this week, the Gold must deal with a team which has been a thorn in its side in recent years. This wasn't the case for the longest time. Prior to 2015, San Jose had rarely gotten any points from Sacramento. Even in the season where San Jose had the most success (2010), the Gold did one better, winning the NPSL National Championship.

However, San Jose has flipped the script over the past two seasons, winning three of the five games between the two teams across all competitions and outscoring the Gold 8-7. In fact, Sacramento has a worse record against San Jose over the last two years than against any of its other three conference opponents. Even in this, arguably San Jose's worst season ever, they've managed to record one win: the season opener against the Gold. One player in particular has been the sharpest end of the thorn, and stands as the biggest obstacle to Sacramento's chances of pulling even in the two-year trend.

Key Matchup

To say the key to winning the game is putting the ball in the back of the net may sound like the most obvious, "no duh," soccer noob answer in history. However, it's a bit more complicated when you're trying to beat Jonathan Arellano. One of the best goalkeepers in the entire NPSL (in addition to Sacramento's John Connolly), Arellano has proven capable of transforming into a brick wall, an example being San Jose's win over Sacramento in which Arellano stood on his head to preserve the shutout.

Arellano's saves not only stop the other teams' offenses, they also power San Jose's own, particularly against the Gold. The more shots the opposing offense takes, the more they press forward. One quick stop can lead to counter attacks, which San Jose has proven apt at converting into goals. In fact, nearly all of San Jose's goals against Sacramento have come via the counter attack. To stop the counter attack is also to find a way to beat Arellano, something the Gold offense will need to do. Taking advantage of its opportunities Saturday will also help Sacramento take another big step towards a return to the postseason.

Playoff Importance

The Gold's win over Portland greatly improved its playoff positioning. With 18 points, Sacramento sits in the third (and final) playoff spot in the Golden Gate Conference, behind Sonoma (20 points) and ahead of the East Bay Stompers (16). The Sol and Stompers face off this weekend, meaning a Sacramento win coupled by an East Bay loss would punch the Gold's ticket to the playoffs. Even a draw in the other game would be enough to do the trick, provided the Gold claims all three points against San Jose.

Even with a loss against San Jose and/or an East Bay win over Sonoma, Sacramento's playoff fate is still in its hands. It would come down to next week's regular season finale between the Gold and Stopmers, with a win clinching a playoff birth for the Gold. But, it would be a much easier task next weekend if Sacramento can take care of business this weekend by pulling the thorn from its side. Will Sacramento start another, much-needed winning streak and take a big leap towards the playoffs? Will San Jose continue its recent success against the Gold and put a dent in the Gold's playoff hopes? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 25 at PAL Stadium.