Preview: Looking for a Strong Start

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Sacramento Gold FC's long offseason is finally over. The Gold begins the 2018 NPSL regular season this weekend, looking for a strong start to what Sacramento helps will be a return to the postseason. Here's a preview of tomorrow night’s match.

First Step to Success

Sacramento Gold FC is in unfamiliar territory, having missed the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in team history. This offseason, three new clubs joined the Golden Gate Conference. While this means a third guaranteed playoff berth for the conference, it also means seven different foes to fight for playoff spots against. Sacramento has to get off to a good start to establish a solid foundation for a playoff push, especially since the Gold's first three games are at home.

Napa Valley 1839, meanwhile, is looking to continue its good start. After taking until the second-to-last match of the season to notch their first ever win, Napa began the season this past weekend with a 3-0 win over one of the conference newcomers, Academica FC. Coming off their most impressive win in club history, Napa will be eager to avenge last season's performances against Sacramento while also putting themselves in good early position with a perfect start of their own. Though the Gold has the home field advantage, any team with momentum is dangerous regardless of where they're playing.

Republic Influence

A big reason why Napa's threat level got a lot closer to midnight is the addition of former Sacramento Republic FC midfielder Max Alvarez on the outside. Alvarez, who is also a former member of the Sacramento Gold, had a strong opening match for his new club, and his experience with Republic FC and Saint Louis FC will be a big help both on the field and in the locker room. But, he won't be the only former Republic FC star who will have a big influence on the match.

That's because the Gold has added two other Republic FC alums to its roster. One of Sacramento's key offseason signings was Alfonso Motagalvan. A great on-field general, Motagalven, who has also suited up for the Rochester Rhinos, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and Pittsburgh Riverhounds, is expected to bring his own experience and skill to anchor the Gold midfield. Meanwhile, Dominik Jakubek has returned to his former club, though not exactly in the same capacity. The longtime goalkeeper will instead play the field as a member of Sacramento's revamped back line. Both Motagalvan and Jakubek will look to further elevate an already impressive Gold defense.

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Key Matchup

Last year, the Sacramento defense was the difference maker in the three matchups against Napa, two of which were shutouts. With the defense having control of Napa's offense, Sacramento was able to attack more freely. This was mainly because, for most of the season, Bryan Marin was the lone true threat for Napa. However, with the addition of Alvarez and Lukas Schubert, plus the emergence of Francisco Mendoza and other attackers, Napa's offense suddenly has a lot more bite to it.

It will be up to the defense to hold that attack down. In addition to Jakubek, Steven Wright brings a lot more size and experience to the Gold back line. With brick walls Zach Ulrich and Bradley Burkhart and proven stalwarts such as Selvin Bonilla and Danny Mititelu ready to protect their goal, Sacramento definitely has depth in the back. Considering Napa's much deeper than before offense, and this will likely be the matchup that decides who takes home three points. If the Gold can hold their own in the back, it will likely be a repeat of last year, which is the polar opposite of what Napa wants on Satuday.

Keep the Trend Going

Last year, Sacramento was an absolute nightmare for the newcomers from Napa. In three matches, the Gold won two and drew one. Both wins were shutouts (2-0 and 4-0), with the first on the road and the second including a hat trick from Matt Wiesenfarth. Even the draw sort of felt like a win -- Roberto Mendoza stole a point on the road with a stoppage time goal. Considering the 4-0 came in Sacramento, where tomorrow's match will take place, and people will probably guess what's going to happen.

However, nothing is certain in life, especially in soccer. Napa looked toothless pretty much all last year. What did they do to start this season? They won 3-0, easily the best performance in club history. Sacramento cannot look ahead to next week's matchup with defending Golden Gate champ CD Aguiluchos USA, lest the Gold go into that showdown with a 0-1 record. The first step to a return to the postseason begins with three points. Will Sacramento take that stride and start on the right foot? Will Napa spoil the party and go to 2-0? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 17 at Capital Christian High School.