EAST BREMERTON — The Kitsap Pumas return home next week for their final two regular season games. And they will be important ones.
The two matches scheduled at Gordon Field — 7 p.m. June 27 against FCM Portland and 7 p.m. June 30 against Spokane Shadow — are the last two of the regular season, and every point earned or lost will be critical.
As of press time, the Pumas were two points out of the second and final playoff spot with 11. They had games against PacNW OSA and FCM Portland scheduled for June 20 and 23, after Central Kitsap Reporter went to print.
The Pumas were riding high after a 2-0 victory over PDX FC at home on June 6, which was their second consecutive win and it had launched them into first place.
It was also their first victory at Gordon Field this year. With a stretch of four away games coming up, the Pumas were primed to pick up some points as they had been very successful on the road this season.
But instead, a Jake Levine hat trick buried the Pumas out in eastern Washington on June 9, resulting in a 5-0 loss to Spokane Shadow. A rebound opportunity presented itself the following week as the team traveled to Lake Oswego to take on the team they had just recently dominated at home.
The Pumas created multiple chances, but never found the back of the net. Late in the game, disaster struck as Ryo Asai scored in the 85th minute, taking away at least one possible point.
“We controlled the game the majority of the time,” head coach Liviu Bird said. “We had plenty of chances, we just haven’t been able to finish them off.”
The Pumas’ best opportunity came in the 61st minute. Uriel Herrera was hauled down in the box and got an opportunity from the penalty spot, but PDX’s Kienan Weekes came up with the stop in what could have been a serious turning point.
“It’s about taking advantage of the opportunities we had,” Bird said. “They only had a few scoring chances, but they scored on one and we didn’t.”
What once looked like a three-team race for the two playoff spots in the NPSL Northwest Division has now become a logjam. Just two weeks ago, The Pumas, Spokane Shadow and FCM Portland all looked as if they were going to pull away from the rest of the division. But PDX FC and OSA FC are currently right on their heels with eight points each.
With the short Northwest Premier Soccer League season soon coming to a close, each match, and even each possession is magnified. But Bird has his team focused on taking each game one at a time.
“To us, no game is more important or less important than any other one,” Bird said. “We are concentrating on our game Wednesday, after that we look to the one on Saturday. Obviously that will continue until the end of the season.”
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.