Preview: Back to Stomping Grounds

Sacramento Gold FC returns home this weekend to try and rebound from a close loss on a short week. Even though it’s early, the Gold are looking for points to keep pace with teams in playoff positions. The problem? Their opponent is in the same boat Here's a preview of tomorrow night’s match.

Coming in Hot (and Not)

While both the Sacramento Gold and East Bay Stompers only have a combined four points out of six games so far, they are coming into this weekend’s showdown in the wake of high-scoring affairs. For the Sacramento offense, three goals weren’t enough to earn a win in last week’s loss to CD Aguiluchos USA. But, the Gold’s goal total has gone up (1 to 2 to 3) with each game. In fact, Sunday’s match featured more goals (seven) than in any other matchup in the West Region.

Tied for second was the Game of the Week, between the Stompers and the Golden Gate Conference newcomers, Napa Valley 1839. East Bay got the home fans going early, with goals in the third and 27th minutes. However, despite the hot start, the Stompers missed several chances to increase their lead, while Napa scored three straight goals to move in front. Attempts to pull even resulted in two penalties, the first missed and the second converted with only three minutes left in the match. Feeling like they let three get away (in more ways than one) East Bay will be looking for a win Saturday.

Revenge on the Mind

For Sacramento, Saturday’s match also serves as an opportunity to get some revenge for how last season ended. It began with five wins in the first six games, pushing the Gold to an early and large lead on top of the Golden Gate Conference. But, a tough stretch at the end of May turned into a spiral, with the Gold falling out of the lead and to barely in the playoffs at all. Still, with only a draw at home in its final game, Sacramento would still reach the postseason.

That did not happen. In fact, it was the visiting Stompers (sitting one point below the Gold in the standings) who started the scoring in the ninth minute. Though the Gold offense was able to hold the ball, it couldn’t finish. Meanwhile, the Gold defense fell victim to both counterattacks and mental mistakes, and the score was soon 3-0. A pair of late goals didn’t matter in the end, as Sacramento missed the playoffs for only the second time ever, while the Stompers clinched their first ever playoff berth. After an offseason of waiting, Sacramento finally gets its chance for payback. But, it won't be easy.

Key Matchup

As the first three games have shown this season, the Gold offense can take control of a game. It’s getting better at finishing, but it will always have its moments. However, defense has been less consistent. Sacramento has given up seven goals in its two losses, while pitching a shutout in its lone win against Napa two weeks ago. If the Gold defense can support its offense, the goals should come. But, doing so is a tough task against the Stompers.

East Bay’s offense features plenty of players who can give Sacramento several scares in the box. Look no further than Victor Parra, whose two early goals helped the Stompers eliminate the Gold last year. There are also Eder Guzman and Prince Bere, both excellent on the ball and capable of creating chances out of nothing. Then, there’s Khalid Arramdani, a superb striker whose quickness and precision have done enough to earn him a shot of impressing NASL scouts. It will be a tough task to stop the Stompers. But, it’s one the Gold defense needs to be up for to not fall into an early season hole.

Keeping Pace

Only a quarter of the season has passed, but points will soon start to become more and more important. With more teams added to the West Region through either expansion of switching leagues, playoff berths will be at a premium this year. Only the top two spots in the Golden Gate Conference are likely to secure a spot in the postseason. Sacramento (sitting in third place) and East Bay (tied for fourth) can’t afford to drop too many points from here on out.

With the current top two teams (CD Aguiluchos USA and the Sonoma County Sol) facing off this weekend, this match is the perfect chance for the Gold to keep pace and possibly pull into a tie for second. A loss would move them down to fourth, while giving the Stompers some life for another run. Heading into the first bye week of the season and playing at home, Sacramento needs to get the job done. Will the Gold notch is the first home win of the year? Will the Stompers leave the home team disappointed again? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 15 at Capital Christian High School.