BREMERTON — After losing its regular season finale, Kitsap SC players took the field July 15 to prove the club belonged among the National Premier Soccer League’s elite.
A goal in the third minute by Romario Lomeli sent the Pumas off and running to a 2-0 victory in their first round match against heated rival FC Mulhouse Portland.
And that loss earlier in the week provided some extra motivation to get off to a quick start.
“I just felt that after Wednesday’s loss, we knew we had to come in and, you know, show ourselves and the whole league we’re here to win it all,” said Lomeli after the match.
While a late letdown against PDX on July 11 cost the club a chance to grab the No. 2 seed, any lingering doubt about the team’s mindset going into the playoffs was erased with the early goal.
A quick flick of the ball sent midfielder Jesus Sanchez away with speed into the attacking third of the field. As the defense and keeper Dorian Lair charged toward Sanchez, he slid the ball over to Lomeli, who made no mistake and finished the scoring chance.
“I have confidence in them and I knew they would come into this game and play with purpose, and they did and they got the job done,” head coach Roy Lassiter said.
And the Pumas were just getting warmed up.
Portland keeper Lair had to make a terrific diving save on Lomeli late in the first half after the midfielder found room near the top of the box to get off an excellent shot. Sanchez also had a scoring opportunity just before halftime, but missed just wide of the mark.
In the second half, it was forward Jorge Ruiz, the team’s leading goal scorer, who found the back of the net in the 55th minute to provide additional cushion as Kitsap SC kept its offensive pressure high throughout the match.
“Even at halftime, I wanted us to keep playing — I wasn’t going to bunker in, I’m going for it,” said Lassiter. “We were going for the win and we were going to keep on injecting our game, and our system of play and how we play into this game. There was no way we were going to slow down.”
The early offensive fireworks overshadowed a top-notch performance by the Kitsap SC starting defensive back four of Mike Scharf, Tyler LaCourse, Joe Harris and Tony Mota, which gave Portland little space to play its game and set up its dangerous striker Luis Gaelano on set pieces.
Although Portland had plenty of possession time during the match, it mustered few truly treacherous opportunities against the Pumas. Keeper Paul-Andre Guerin was rarely tested, but was always in the right place when called upon to handle the ball and earned his fourth clean sheet of the season.
“That was a weak point we had going in,” said Sanchez, better known as “Chuy” to his teammates. “We conceded a lot of goals early on from corner kicks and set pieces, and we’ve worked on it in training sessions and the big guys stepped up and won their headers. They were physical, they did a great job.”
With the win, the Pumas will head to Oakland, California for a July 22 showdown with No. 2 seed CD Aguiluchos USA, which dominated its own opening round game against Sonoma County Sol FC, 4-0. Kitsap SC was a perfect 5-0 on the road during the regular season.
“They do very well on the road, so it will be a good match – every game is going to be a good match,” said Lassiter. “This is a new season for us already, a new season in terms of the playoffs. Everything is a clean slate.”
Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com