EAST BREMERTON — A long cross off the foot of Kevin Francis carried faint hope for the Kitsap Pumas as it traveled towards goal.
It looked innocent at first, and the FC Mulhouse Portland keeper Scott Dalrymple played it as a straightforward cross into the box. Then Dalrymple began drifting back, and Pumas players and coaches were growing visibily excited. Down a goal, a draw would give them a puncher’s chance to sneak into the playoffs.
Dalrymple never got his hands on the ball, but it smacked the corner of the woodwork and fell away harmlessly. The final whistle blew moments later, and the Pumas lost the match, 2-1, on Wednesday night.
Kitsap’s Brian Charles converted on a penalty kick in the 88th minute to give his team some life. The Pumas had attacked well in the second half, and that hard work paid off when Sam Gomez was fouled in the box. Charles scored, but it was too little, too late.
“We had the PK and we had some attacking runs going forward,” Kitsap Pumas captain Mike Scharf said. “But we didn’t have that finishing quality at the end to put our chances away. It’s a little disappointing.”
A draw would have kept the Pumas within striking distance for the second playoff spot out of the Northwest Division of the NPSL. The team would have had to beat first place Spokane Shadow, a team that has not lost a match all season, at Gordon Field at 7 p.m. on Saturday, and FC Mulhouse Portland would have had to lose outright to PDX FC.
Instead, the Pumas will be playing for pride, themselves and their fans on Saturday after failing to qualify for a playoff spot for just the third time in ten seasons.
“We have to go out on a high note, we have to represent the club and we have to represent ourselves,” head coach Liviu Bird said.
The Pumas went down 1-0 early in the first half. A cross by FC Mulhouse Portland’s Christian Thryon hit the arm of Kitsap defender Jack Sluys in the penalty area. It was a bad break for the Pumas, as the referee immediately signaled for a penalty kick. Fred Braun scored to give his team the lead.
Portland increased its lead on a 43rd-minute goal by Alex White. A goal kick was headed forward by Nick Evans to White, who sliced through the defense and unleashed a powerful shot off his left foot. After the match, Bird referred to what ended up being the decisive goal as “soft.”
“That [goal] kind of summarizes the way we have defended this year at times,” Bird said.
With some substitution players bringing a renewed energy to the attack and their seasons on the line, the Pumas charged forward in greater numbers looking for a way to score.
The match was nearly 95 minutes old when Francis’s cross from the right sideline 30 yards away nearly proved to be a magical equalizer.
“We’ve had strong responses all year from situations where we face adversity,” Bird said. “I just wish we wouldn’t put ourselves in those situations we have to respond to.”
FC Mulhouse Portland 2, Kitsap Pumas 1
First half — FCMP, Fred Braun (PK), 11th; FCMP, Alex White (Nick Evans), 43rd.
Second half — KP, Brian Charles (PK), 88th.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.