Preview: Facing a New Foe

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Sacramento Gold FC returns from its first bye week of 2018, looking to continue to rack up points early. Their opponent is a new one, with plenty of firepower to pose a threat. Here's a preview of tomorrow night’s match.

Well Defended, Well Rested

Sacramento Gold FC had the best defense in the Golden Gate Conference last season. Sacramento tied with CD Aguiluchos USA for fewest goals conceded (18 in 12 games) and led the conference in shutouts (four). They also were the only Golden Gate squad to not pick up a red card during the entire season. Well, though we're not even one fifth of the way through the season, the Gold is well on its way to repeating their sterling performance from last year.

Through two matches this season, the Gold have given up exactly one goal, which means another shutout has already been earned. Part of the reason has to do with a fortunate hand from the schedule: the first three games of the season (including tomorrow's game) are at home, where three of last years four shutouts took place. Couple that with the fact that Sacramento has gotten two weeks to rest and deal with nagging injuries, and the chances of a third strong defensive performance look good. However, the Gold is facing a brand new opponent, and the unfamiliarity may bring some unexpected problems.

What Can We Expect?

While Sacramento has earned two straight draws two low-scoring games to start the season, Academica SC's inaugural NPSL campaign has been the definition of a roller coaster. Through three matches, Academica is 1-2-0, and no result has been particularly close. While Sacramento and Turlock's teams have yet to share the field at all, Academica's opponents could give some interesting insight in how the two squads will match up this weekend.

Academica did not get off to a strong start, falling to Napa Valley 1839 in a 3-0 road loss. Napa completed the season sweep two weeks later, topping Academica 3-1 in Turlock. But, before anyone knocks Academica for their performances against last season's Golden Gate cellar dwellers, consider that Napa would be undefeated right now had Sacramento not scored a stoppage time tying goal in the Gold's opener. In addition, Academica's lone win came against the Gold's long-time rivals, the Sonoma County Sol, in a 4-2 affair. Which Academica will take the field in the Capitol City?

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Key Matchup

As mentioned earlier, Sacramento's strength lies in its defense, which will undoubtedly be the deciding factor in this matchup. Steven Wright has been a crucial addition to the back line that already featured studs like Zach Ulrich, Brad Burkhart, and Selvin Bonilla, while Dominik Jakubek's veteran presence has provided great leadership. That group will look to defend the Gold's home turf once again to give them at least another point to start the 2018 campaign.

But it won't be easy. Unfamiliarity with an opponent can lead to mistakes, especially against a squad with multiple threats. Academica's five goals this season have come from five different players, proving that the Turlock squad has a diverse array of attacking options. Those five players don't include the club's captain and strong midfield presence Gerardo Cazares. Get him going, and the Gold could be facing a bevy of unwanted problems. But, that offense has been held at bay before, and Sacramento is more than capable of an exceptional defensive stand in from of a raucous home crowd.

Take Advantage of Home Field

Though Sacramento has proven itself defensively, its offensive performance has left a lot to be desired. While the Gold has given up only one goal this season, it has scored just as many. Possession has not been the main issue; finishing has. Although Sacramento has done well to earn points in each game this season, three points are more valuable than one, and the Gold has to take advantage of a fortunate schedule in order to boost its playoff position early.

With eight clubs now in the conference, Sacramento must fight even harder for the postseason. Only three Golden Gate squads qualify, and Napa is already off to a strong start. Aguiluchos and another newcomer, El Farolito, have already earned wins, while Academica themselves currently have more points than Sacramento (albeit with an extra game played). Sacramento needs to start winning now. Can the Gold get it done in front of their home fans? Will Academica play spoiler and pick up their second win of the season? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 7 at Capital Christian High School.