(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)
Sacramento Gold FC needs to get all three points tomorrow night to maintain its chances of a postseason berth. To do so, they'll have to take down an opponent making its first ever trip to California's capital city. Here's a preview of tomorrow night’s match.
Getting Three Points...
Sacramento squandered a prime opportunity to snap its streak of disappointing results last weekend. Playing at home, leading the rival Sonoma County Sol 2-0 at the half, the Gold gave up a goal early in the second half. But, Sonoma's goalkeeper was given a red card for handling the ball outside of the box, putting Sacramento up a man for the rest of the game. Even so, the Sol managed to score the tying strike with seconds left in stoppage time. Those lost two points could prove fatal to Sacramento's playoff chances.
It was the latest in a series of unfortunate endings to games where Sacramento should have left with more than it got. A first half hat trick against the same Sol neutralized with a goal with ten minutes left (a 3-2 win to a 3-3 draw). A fantastic defensive effort spoiled by one lapse (a 1-0 win to a 1-1 draw). A would-be game-winning penalty kick saved, followed by giving up the actual game-winner in stoppage time (a 2-1 win to a 1-2 loss). The Gold's last win was nearly two months ago, yet somehow the playoffs are still a real possibility. To keep those dreams alive, Sacramento has to grab all three points, and this time not let go.
...the Home Team, That is
The Gold's opponent will also be intensely fighting for all three points, for a different reason. Napa Valley 1839, the Golden Gate Conference newcomers, are still searching for their first NPSL win. Unbelievably, they're still in the playoff hunt as well, but there's nothing quite like win number one. Despite sitting in the cellar for the entire season, the 1839 have come incredibly close to breaking through several times. It nearly came at Sacramento's expense.
One month ago, the Gold was dead in the water at Memorial Stadium, down 2-1 in the final minute. But then, Matt Wiesenfarth led one final charge down the right side, and found Roberto Mendoza in the box. Mendoza took a dribble and, with the last kick in the game, fired the ball into the net to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat and break the hearts of the home fans. Saturday will be the first game between Sacramento and Napa since then, and the 1839's first ever game on the Gold's home turf. What better way to get revenge and get your first win at the same time? Sacramento has to beware of the visitors.
(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)
However, Napa's chances took a major blow in its last match, when its captain, top scorer, and offensive engine, Bryan Marin, was issued a yellow card, earning him a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation. Marin has missed one game before, and coincidentally it was Napa's worst performance of the season, a 3-1 loss to CD Aguiluchos USA, who was missing its own captain, Ross Middlemiss. Missing Marin definitely dampers the 1839's offense.
But not completely. Once thought of as Marin and 10 other players, Napa has had several other players develop and evolve into threats and solid pieces of their own. In particular, two attacking forces, Francisco Mendoza and Gabriel Borges, have blossomed into attacking powers who have matched Marin's offensive output. Mendoza has put in multiple clutch performances, while Borges has scored in three of the last four games. Just because Marin is not on the field doesn't mean the Gold defense has an easy day in store, far from it. Falling asleep is how those previous leads got blown. That can't happen Saturday.
Needing to Stay in it
Four teams are fighting for one playoff spot in the Golden Gate Conference, The Aguiluchos have already clinched first place. Sacramento and Sonoma are tied for second with ten points, though the Sol have one game in hand. The East Bay Stompers are in fourth with seven, while Napa is last with four. Aguiluchos has the week off, so the results of Saturday's two games, Sacramento-Napa and Sonoma-East Bay will have major implications for the playoff scenario.
Sacramento does not control its destiny, meaning Sonoma will finish second if they win out. Nonetheless, the Gold have to get every point they can in order to make sure they stay in possession in case the Sol falters. It would be a great reversal of recent results, but that's the task on Sacramento's plate for the rest of its season. It starts Saturday Will the Gold finally get another win and put the pressure on their rivals? Will Napa get its revenge on Sacramento and earn its first ever win in NPSL competition at the same time? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 10 at Capital Christian High School.