Preview: On the Road to Wine Country

Sacramento Gold FC hopes to rebound from a tough opening night loss with a win on its first road trip of the 2017 NPSL season. The Gold's opponent is an unfamiliar one, with Saturday serving as the first ever matchup between the two clubs. The boys from wine country are hoping to make history at Sacramento's expense. Here's a preview of tomorrow night's match.

Bouncing Back

Saturday's season opener was as high-stakes as an early season match could possibly be, with the Gold beginning the schedule at home against the rival Sonoma County Sol. It played out like a game with much to lose as well, with the majority of the game taking place in the middle third of the field. Unfortunately for the home crowd, when play finally breached the outer thirds of the field, it was the visiting Sol who took advantage of the most chances, coming out on top 3-1.

The outcome left plenty to take away. To start with the positives, Sacramento enjoyed the edge in possession, with the team's new additions gelling well with the established midfield. Against last year's national runner-up, that's an impressive display so early in the season. However, the end result was filled with the ghosts of 2016, when the Gold would dominate possession, but not take advantage of chances and let slip one or two opportunities for opponents to take advantage of at the other end. As the season unfolds, Sacramento's strikers will have to convert, particularly on the road against a hungry foe.

Time to Wine and Dine

The NPSL's Golden Gate Conference has consistently been one of the top in terms of both quality and competition in the entire league. But this year, there was a shakeup in the offseason. One of the conference's oldest members -- Real San Jose -- now calls the confines of the United Premier Soccer League home. At the same time, a new club took its place among Sacramento Gold FC's rivals, and it's already looking to take down the Golden Gate's elite.

The Napa Valley 1839 have already been making their mark on Northern California soccer, drawing both personnel and players from the same crop as the Sonoma County Sol, while also generating plenty of buzz as the new challengers in the big, bad Golden Gate Conference. Those efforts have already begun to reap rewards. The 1839's first ever game saw crowds pack Memorial Stadium and the club take the lead inside the opening 10 minutes of action. However, they couldn't keep up their hot start, falling to CD Aguiluchos USA 2-1. Now, having gained that experience, they're looking to take the next step against the Gold.

Key Matchup

Napa's hot start last weekend came courtesy of arguably their best offensive threat: star striker Bryan Marin. Marin intercepted a pass in the offensive third, showed creativity and patience in drawing the defender over, then laid off a perfect pass for the opening goal. He kept up the pressure throughout the match, and was behind the majority of Napa's best chances. It'll be up to the Gold defense and holding midfield to contain the 1839's biggest threat.

However, it's not so simple. A similar comparison can be made to Napa's first opponent: the Aguiluchos. Former NPSL Player of the Year Ross Middlemiss is the engine of CDA's offense, and shutting him down is key to stopping the attack. However, Middlemiss can also unlock a defense with precision passing, opening up plenty of scoring chances for his forwards. Marin showed similar flashes against Middlemiss' team, though the Napa offense has yet to show a consistent second threat up top, like CDA has with Simon Rawnsley. Sacramento's back line needs to put in work to ensure the second striker doesn't emerge against them.

Wrong Side of History

Napa has all the tools to build a long term success in the NPSL. When all is said and done, the 1839 will have a lot of home games, many more on the road, and maybe even some postseason matchups along the way. However, you never forget your first, the first time you left the field in a league game as victors. For Napa, that piece of trivia has yet to be answered: Which club did Napa Valley 1839's first ever NPSL win come against? Sacramento Gold FC is hoping the answer will not be them.

The Gold has another reason not to wind up on the wrong end of the scoreboard -- teams who start 0-2 don't have the best track record of making the postseason. Plus, with Sacramento's next game against the conference-leading Aguiluchos, it's critical the Gold get all three points against the new boys. The problem? The 1839 is facing the same fate, and know they can't afford to lose, either. Will Sacramento get its first win of the season and avoid becoming victory #1 for the newcomers? Will Napa finally break through in their second game? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 1 at Memorial Stadium.