Preview: A Second Glass

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Sacramento Gold FC is headed to wine country once again, this time to take on the conference newcomer on the sole Golden Gate Conference game this week. Sacramento needs points to keep up in the playoff race, while their opponent is looking to finally break through. Here's a preview of tomorrow night’s match.

Back to Wine Country

This will be Sacramento's second ever match against Napa Valley 1839, who is in its first season in the NPSL's Golden Gate Conference. The first match was also the Gold's first road game of the season, just over one month ago. The newcomers came out aggressive, holding control of the first 15 minutes. But, a Gold goal brought more even possession, with Sacramento grabbing control with a second goal in the second half. The win was Sacramento's first of 2017.

The match will also be Sacramento's second straight in wine country. Last week, the Gold paid a visit to their rivals, the Sonoma County Sol. It was a match that lived up to the billing of the historic rivalry, with Sacramento forward Matt Wiesenfarth scoring a first half hat trick, a performance that would earn him National Player of the Week honors. Though the Gold would earn a crucial road point in a 3-3 draw, two more were up for grabs until a late goal drew the hosts even. Having let a win slip late, Sacramento hopes to get the bad taste out of its mouth by taking care of business this weekend.

Don't Let Up Late

Sacramento will have to play strong to avoid letting the opponent score late in the game, for this has become common in Napa. While twice the 1839 have scored in the first ten minutes of the game (the Gold has done so three times), it's been late goals that have been a defining trait in the first half of the season. It began against the East Bay Stompers, when Napa battled back from down 2-0 to take a 3-2 lead late in the game, which eventually ended in a 3-3 draw.

The bigger result came two weeks ago against their fellow wine country squad: Sonoma. Again, Napa fell behind 2-0. Again, the 1839 came back, first with a strike only a few minutes into the second half. Then, with the home crowd roaring for them to get a result, Napa managed to tie the game with a dramatic goal in the 89th minute and take a point in a 2-2 draw. If the Gold does jump out to another lead (or if they also happen to fall behind), they have to be aware of letting up any momentum, with a raucous home crowd and an ever-growing fight-back attitude always ready to spark at a moment's notice.

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Key Matchup

Part of the reason for the big comeback ability is the developing Napa offense. When the Gold was last getting ready to head up to Napa, star striker Bryan Marin had already emerged as an offensive threat capable of igniting goal scoring chances with ease. Since then, additional dangers have emerged. Francisco Mendoza provided the second-to-the-last-minute equalizer against Sonoma, while last week Gabriel Borges scored only two minutes into their road match against Golden Gate-leading CD Aguiluchos USA.

Speaking of the Aguiluchos, comparisons between Marin and CDA star Ross Middlemiss have emerged. Both are pure forces who can run a fast-moving offense with ease. One difference is Simon Rawnsley, Middlemiss' partner on top and a proven goalscorer in his own right. While a Simon Rawnsley (a consistent second threat) has yet to emerge for the 1839, it can only take one game to get a striker going. Marin, a threat of his own both in finishing and passing, can find the open man in an instant. The Gold defense has to make sure to limit Marin's ability on the pass and shot to have the best chance of coming out with a win.

On the Verge

Winning is something the 1839 have yet to do this season, which makes them a dangerous opponent, particularly on the road. Though Sacramento won 2-0 last time, it was after withstanding a surge in the first 15 minutes and a strike hitting the post later in the match. With a loud crowd bolstering them and a growing force on offense, it seems only a matter of time before Napa finally gets win number one. For the Gold, it's vital that win not come against them.

Approaching the halfway point of the season, Sacramento sits only one point behind second place and a guaranteed spot in the postseason. Dropping more points cannot do any good for the Gold, particularly with the Aguiluchos (off a bye week) on the schedule next week. With so much already at stake and a hungry opponent waiting for them on the road, Sacramento must have a good performance to come away with a win. Will the Gold keep pace with the two teams ahead of them in the conference? Will Napa finally get their first NPSL win at Sacramento's expense? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 6 at Memorial Stadium.