Preview: Heading Back on the Road

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Sacramento Gold FC is hitting the highway again for its third road trip in four weeks. The Gold hope to snap a streak of single-point results by claiming all three Saturday. But, Sacramento's opponent is riding high after a win of their own, and looking to get some revenge. Here's a preview of tomorrow night’s match.

Avenge Another

The way last season ended (eliminated from playoff contention at home on the final game of the season) still soured Sacramento last month, when the East Bay Stompers came back to town for the first time this year. The Gold made sure to not leave the field with the same result this time around, as its offense swarmed the Stompers en route to a dominant 3-0 win. Now, it's the Stompers who are looking for payback. But, this doesn't mean Sacramento is done yet.

In the two games played at CSU East Bay's Pioneer Stadium (the home of the Stompers) last year, both clubs went 1-1. However, it proved to be a difficult environment for the visitors. Though the game was tied 1-1 late, the Stompers were dominating possession when Sacramento scored two quick goals to steal the win, though East Bay nearly came back in the end. The home squad would leave no doubt the second time around in a 2-0 result which helped push Sacramento further into its second half spiral. The Gold will look to exercise those demons as well when they head back to Hayward this weekend.

Breaking the Draw

Since the Gold's win over East Bay last month, the results have not been exactly when the club has looked for. The good news: Sacramento has earned a point in each of the three games since. The bad news: they've only gotten a point each time. After not drawing a match for nearly two calendar years, the Gold has tied each of its last three contests. Each has had its own unique flavor and feeling after the final whistle, though it's been the same result. .

First was the 3-3 finish against the Sonoma County Sol that felt like a loss, having squandered a first half hat trick from Matt Wiesenfarth (though he did win the Mitre National Player of the Week award for his efforts). Then, there was the 2-2 tie against Napa Valley 1839 that felt like a win, with Roberto Mendoza's stoppage time tying goal. Last week, it was a surprising non-goal fest in a 1-1 draw with CD Aguiluchos USA that actually did feel like a split. With the final third of the season approaching, those draws seem more and more like dropped points. Sacramento needs all three Saturday to boost its chances at the postseason.

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Key Matchup

Part of how Sacramento ended with three straight draws was falling victim to simple miscues: letting in a late goal, a defensive lapse to give the home team an advantage, the one moment that high-powered opponent offense was not held in check. The major mistake-free effort came against these same Stompers. The Gold played smart soccer on the defensive side and forced East Bay into making big mistakes in their final third with pressure from the forwards.

The first goal came from pressuring the goalkeeper, who gave up the ball with a misplay, allowing the Gold to simply walk it in. It was further pressure that led to another slip, with the result being a red card to the keeper and Sacramento enjoying a man advantage for the entire second half. The Stompers won't make it easy this time around. The experienced and reliable Marcus Rojas is back in goal, aided by the return of veteran defender Luigi Castillo as well. Gavin Pacheco will also prove a tough test for Sacramento's defense. But, playing smart on defense while applying pressure on offense is never a bad strategy.

Three-Point Fight

Right now, Sacramento sits in second place in the Golden Gate Conference with nine points. That's one more than the third place Sol have, though Sonoma has not one, but two games in hand. The margin could be bigger. But, you know, draws. It just means taking all three points from the Stompers is even more imperative, especially since the Sol will be facing off against the first place Aguiluchos at the same time. A Sacramento win and a Sonoma loss sets up a very exciting scenario two weeks from now.

On the other hand, the Stompers don't think they're out of it yet, and they're not. Last year, East Bay rode a late run to its first ever postseason appearance, at the Gold's expense. Now, the Stompers home to rally again, with momentum from last week's 2-1 win over Napa, their first of the season. It's up to Sacramento to stymie their rally before it ever begins, while keeping themselves in position to make their own triumphant return to the playoffs. Will the Gold finally break the streak of draws and claim all three points on the road? Will the Stompers defend their turf and deny Sacramento again? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 20 at Pioneer Stadium.