BREMERTON — All summer long, no lead was too large to overcome, no situation was too daunting for Kitsap SC.
Until the last one.
For a side that faced so much adversity and scored so many dramatic goals en route to a division title this season, the precarious situation the Pumas found themselves in against CD Aguiluchos USA on July 22 in the second round of the NPSL playoffs was nothing new.
They had clawed back from a 2-0 deficit to win against FCM Portland in May; they scored twice in the second half to top PDX on June 8; and they rescued a point against Pierce County with a goal in injury time.
But on the road in California against Aguiluchos, the magic had run out and Kitsap SC’s playoff run ended prematurely with a 4-2 loss. It was their first away loss of the season.
“We had come through it before,” assistant coach Liviu Bird said. “Perhaps this was just one time too many.”
Down 2-0 in the second half, a glimmer of hope came in the 67th minute. Kitsap midfielder Jesus Sanchez was taken down in the box and the referee awarded the Pumas penalty kick. Jorge Ruiz converted — his fifth goal of the season — cutting the deficit in half with over 20 minutes still to play.
However, just a few minutes later, the Pumas yielded a penalty kick of their own and Simon Rawnsley, one of the league’s most dangerous strikers, smashed it past keeper Paul-Andre Guerin. It was his second goal of the game and it put his team back ahead by two.
The Pumas were also a bit unlucky — defenders Tyler LaCourse and Tony Mota both exited the game in the first half, leaving Kitsap SC to play most of the match with only half of its starting back four.
“It throws off your plan when you have to burn off early subs,” said Bird. “Guys that could have been fresh later in the game came in to a high-pressure game with very little warning and very little warmup.
The injuries and a bad bounce that led to a goal in the second minute by Rawnsley put the Pumas in a hole out of which they simply could not climb. Unfortunately, the loss also represented a missed chance at hosting a second playoff game, as top-seeded Arizona FC was upset by No. 4 seed Orange County FC in the other semifinal game.
But the season for Kitsap SC, its very first in the NPSL, must be considered an overall success. With a 6-2-2 record, the Pumas captured first place in the Northwest Conference Division with only one player returning from the previous season.
Bird commended his players for the hard work they put in right from the first training session of the season.
“It was a good season,” said Bird. “We had a lot of success this year and I think we laid the groundwork well for the future. To win the division in our first year in a new league, we won’t complaint about that, that’s for sure.”
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.