Preview: Cinco de Mayo Showdown

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Sacramento Gold FC and the rival Sonoma County Sol are set for a scintillating Cinco de Mayo showdown this weekend. However, poor performances in the first half of the 2018 NPSL campaign have taken a bit of a shine off the traditionally powerhouse matchup. Here's a preview of tomorrow night's match.

Rivals Reunited

The rivalry between Sacramento Gold FC and the Sonoma County Sol has historically come to define the Golden Gate conference and (generally) the entire West Region. Sacramento and Sonoma are the only two active teams in the West Region to ever win an NPSL championship and two of three to represent the West Region in the national semifinals. Indeed, the two are the most successful western clubs in NPSL history.

They've also had to go through each other to get to the national stage. Those contests, both in the regular season and playoffs, have been contentious and close, with matches rarely ending by a margin of more than two goals. Even when the clubs aren't facing off the the playoffs, spots in the postseason always seem to come down between the two, making each regular season showdown seem like it has a wealth of ramifications for each result. So, whenever these two play, it's typically a competitive clash of the titans.

Bottom Table Clash

However, as we reach the halfway point of the 2018 campaign, both Sonoma and Sacramento find themselves in an unusual position: the bottom of the table. Out of the eight Golden Gate Conference squads, the Sol is tied for sixth with Turlock's Academica team, while the Gold is dead last. Sonoma just earned its first victory of the season last weekend, while Sacramento has shockingly yet to get in the win column in 2018.

The problems for each squad are, interestingly, polar opposite. Sacramento boasted the best defense in the conference last season and has improved this year, posting two shutouts so far. However, its offense is severely lacking, having only scored three goals all year. Meanwhile, Sonoma's defense has been akin to Swiss cheese at times, giving up a goal each game and only twice holding an opponent to a single score. But, it's offense has been potent, only being shut out once so far. Something has to give Saturday.

(Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)

Key Matchup

On paper, Sacramento has the players to be an offensive juggernaut. The offense has done well in largely all facets: possession, shots on goal, etc. However, they just can't put the ball in the back of the damn net. While Sacramento has certainly been plagued with bad luck by the soccer gods, the players have to defy the higher powers and take control of their destiny: scoring goals and give the defense a reward for their efforts.

In fact, the defense had to do it themselves last week. Sacramento's only goal came from a header by the towering Steven Wright. More of that effort might be needed against the typically tall Sonoma back line. While the Gold offense isn't lacking in skill, it could do with a bit of height. If Sacramento can find its footing in the aerial game, there's a good chance it can find the breakthrough it's been looking for all season. If not, this latest showdown of rivals could very well end up being a low-scoring, defensive affair

Needing a Boost

Even if Sacramento can snag the three points this weekend, it will be, at best, sitting with seven points through seven games. That is, in two words, not good, especially considering the teams tied for first in the Golden Gate Conference, CD Aguiluchos USA and El Farolito, both have 14 points right now. If the Gold wants to make a late run to the playoffs, it's gonna have to do so starting right now.

For years, Sacramento and Sonoma have dominated the West Region. However, with both teams at the bottom of the Golden Gate table, it seems a changing of the guard may soon be in order. If either squad wants to fight that change, three points are a must on Saturday. Can the Gold finally put some points on the board and rack up its first win of the season? Can the Sol keep its rival's nightmare start to the season going? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 5 at Capital Christian High School.