(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)
Sacramento Gold FC is back from the bye and starting its biggest homestand of the season, one in which it needs to get as many points as possible to make the push for the playoffs. Standing in the way: the old rival, trying to get back to the postseason themselves. Here's a preview of tomorrow night’s match.
Looking to Rebound
Sacramento still largely controls its destiny when it comes to making the playoffs, despite a disappointing mid-season skid. In its last four games, the Gold only managed to claim three points, despite many chances to get more. Three of those games ended in a draw, with Sacramento outplaying its opponent in two of them. Late goals and defensive lapses turned three points into two. But, it's the most recent result which left the most bitter taste in Sacramento's mouth.
Two weeks ago, the Gold and East Bay Stompers were tied at 1-1 with about five minutes to play. A great run by Danny Cuevas led to a penalty kick and a chance for Sacramento, playing with no subs, to pull out a win. However, the kick was saved, and the Stompers scored the game-winner themselves in stoppage time, a huge swing that left the Gold reeling going into its second bye week of the season. Now, wounds partially healed, Sacramento looks to rebound from the heartbreaking loss and cement its place in the postseason. Plus, the Gold will have a major advantage over the final four games.
The Gold is through its toughest part of the schedule. After an even split in the first third of the season, the middle third had Sacramento on the road for three out of four games. Two were back-to-back trips up north to wine country, while the third and final was to Hayward, the furthest destination out of the Gold's four conference rivals. The one reprieve was not really a reprieve at all, as the Gold's lone home game came against the undefeated CD Aguiluchos USA, though Sacramento did become the only team to take a point from them.
However, the final stretch shines a big advantage for Sacramento: three of its last four games at home. In addition, the lone road game will be against the Aguiluchos, who have already clinched the conference's top spot and could rest players for the playoffs. But, the Gold's other three opponents won't be cupcakes. Though the Napa Valley 1839 is winless, victory #1 nearly came at Sacramento's expense, with Roberto Mendoza saving the Gold in stoppage time. The season finale against the Stompers will be a repeat of last year, which saw more heartbreak at the Gold's expense. Then, there's the old rival, coming to town tomorrow.
(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)
Part of the reason the Gold is still in playoff contention is the fact that the Sonoma County Sol have themselves gone through a bit of a slump, taking only three points in its last five games. But don't let the record fool you, the Sol, as ever, have plenty of firepower capable of pulling Sonoma out of a deficit and into a lead in mere minutes. It's that offensive explosiveness that the Gold must plan against to give themselves the best chance to win.
Arguably the deadliest part of the Sol offense is Omar Nuno, who has already torched the Gold in the season opener. Nuno, a big forward, is tough to push off the ball and has both the deft touch and rocket shot to create instant scoring chances. But, let's not forget Tyler Hurst, who turned Sacramento's 2-0 advantage into a 2-2 deadlock in just three minutes when the team met a second time, and the Diegos, Lopez and Velasquez, the latter tying the game with ten minutes to play. Keeping the Sol offense at bay is a tough task, but it's easier than playing from behind, something the Gold defense will have to avoid to give their offense the best chance to do its thing.
Fight for Second
The race for the playoffs is as close as it gets, at least for four of the five Golden Gate Conference teams. The Aguiluchos, far ahead with 25 points, have already taken the conference's top spot. East Bay fourth with seven points, while winless and last place Napa is still in the hunt with four points. Tied for second with nine points are Sacramento and Sonoma, though the Sol have played one fewer game. But, if the Gold can claim a win, the advantage is negated. If both teams then win out, it will come down to goal differential.
However, a loss could deal a fatal blow to the Gold's playoff chances, while a draw would basically force Sacramento to play perfect and hope Sonoma trips up. Only with a win can the Gold largely control their destiny moving forward. It's also important to establish home field dominance with the 1839 and Stompers still to come east. It's officially time to put up or shut up, and Sacramento needs to do some talking. Will the Gold get it done and top the rival Sol? Will Sonoma further break Sacramento's heart and put themselves forward in the playoff hunt? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 3 at Capital Christian High School.