Preview: Deja Vu

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Sacramento Gold FC's regular season is coming to a close, with one more chance to improve its chances for the postseason. There's also an opportunity to help erase the painful memories from last year's finale. Here's a preview of tomorrow night’s match.

Contenders Falling

Sacramento has done what it had to do to stay alive in the West Region playoff hunt. Playing in triple-digit weather on the road against CD Aguiluchos USA (who had not lost a match all season), the Gold came up with its three biggest points of the season so far, winning 3-1 and staying in second place in the Golden Gate Conference. It was Sacramento's second straight win, both absolutely needed. A third to end the season would put Sacramento within one other result of the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the dominoes are starting to fall across the West, with three clubs being eliminated from playoff contention this past weekend. One of those teams is the Gold's opponent Saturday: the East Bay Stompers. Needing a win to keep their postseason hopes alive, the Stompers instead were blown out at home, 4-0, by the Sonoma County Sol, the one club that can catch Sacramento in the standings. However, while East Bay's season will end tomorrow night no matter what, the Gold know far better than to think the Stompers will simply roll over, especially considering the way last season ended.

Similar Scenario, Different Ending

It's a reality Sacramento would like to forget, one that is being eerily mirrored this year. Last year, the Gold rushed out to a huge lead atop the Golden Gate Conference, only to enter its roughest stretch in years, losing five straight games. Still, two late wins meant all Sacramento would manage to make the playoffs with only a draw in the regular season finale, at home against the Stompers. Instead, it was East Bay who prevailed that night, taking the Gold's playoff spot in the process.

This year, Sacramento also endured a rough stretch in the middle of the season, though it still put itself in position for the playoffs with two late wins. Like last year, the Gold topped the Stompers in their first meeting, East Bay took the rematch, and the rubber match will be played in Sacramento to end the season. While a win won't clinch a playoff berth for the Gold this time, it would put Sacramento on the doorstep. It's been nearly a full calendar year since last year's humiliating defeat. At the same time Gold finally has a chance to get the bitter taste out of its month with another big win tomorrow night.

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Key Matchup

The Stompers present a tough game plan for the Gold on two fronts. The first: because they've already been eliminated from postseason contention, they have nothing left to lose. The next match won't be until 2018, so there's no reason for East Bay not to leave everything out on the field. That's a scary mindset for the defense that has to stop attackers like Victor Parra, Zanin Mahic, Eder Guzman, Prince Bere, and Arturo Gomez. Sacramento's back line will have to weather this game-long storm.

Secondly, while a draw would keep the Gold alive one more week at least, a win would put all the pressure on the Sol to match. However, scoring goals against Marcus Rojas is not exactly an easy task. The Stompers goalkeeper has been playing out of his mind between the pipes, stopping three penalty kicks before Claudio Bravo and Mitch Hildebrandt made it cool. One of those denied Sacramento a late winner, and led to the eventual game-loser minutes later. East Bay's solid back line only adds to the problem. The Gold needs goals, and the Stompers pose a big threat to making that happen.

One Last Push

Here's the situation: Sacramento (16 points) can clinch the Golden Gate Conference's final automatic playoff berth with a win and either a loss or a draw by Sonoma (13 points) against the Aguiluchos on Sunday. A draw would also be enough to secure a spot, provided the Sol lose. Should Sonoma win, the final spot won't be decided until next weekend, when the Sol faces Napa Valley 1839. Should the Gold and Sol finish even in points, Sonoma would advance to the playoffs due to a tiebreaker: head-to-head record (one win and two draws in favor of the Sol).

Sacramento does not control its own destiny. However, it can force Sonoma to get maximum results (two wins) by taking care of business against the Stompers. A win would make it three in a row to end the season, providing good momentum going into either the playoffs or next year. With one more chance to play in front of the home crowd, the Gold will be looking to do everything they can to add at least one more game to the schedule. Will Sacramento close out the regular season with a win? Will the Stompers make it a second straight year of misery for the Gold? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 1 at Capital Christian High School.