BREMERTON, Wash. — The Kitsap Pumas enter the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in unfamiliar territory with regard to league play. However, sitting on negative points in the PDL Northwest Division should have no effect on Wednesday’s match against the Seattle Sounders U23 in a different competition.
In fact, Pumas goalkeeper Matt Grosey said, a win could help solve the team’s problems on multiple fronts.
“This is a huge game for us,” he said. “It’s a little break from the league we need, especially after a rough couple of days for the club. We can go into the game without worrying about points and standings. A solid win here will give us the confidence to be able to go again on Friday.”
The Pumas have historically been able to put league form, good or bad, aside when it comes to the Open Cup. From the club’s inception in 2009, when it lost to the Portland Timbers of the USL 3-0, Kitsap has used the tournament to showcase its players against higher-level opposition.
As the tournament has grown, so has the level of play in the early round matches. After losing again to the Timbers in 2010 and going far enough to face the MLS version of the Seattle Sounders in 2011 and narrowly lose by one goal in the Third Round, it became trickier to advance.
Cal FC made the Pumas its first victim in 2012 on the way to a giant-killing cup run that ran through the Timbers’ MLS side and fought valiantly against the Sounders. Kitsap failed to qualify in 2013 and 2014 before rejoining the competition in 2015.
A victory over FC Tacoma 253 and extra-time loss to Sounders 2 spurred the Pumas on to win the PDL Northwest Division title. As much of a long shot as it may seem at this point, the players know that a couple of positive results in the Open Cup could be the catalyst they need to go on a similar run in the league.
“One game can change our season for the better,” Grosey said. “There’s still plenty of time in league play, but getting a win tomorrow will put us back on the front foot.”
The Pumas will be without center back Rene DeZorzi, who picked up a red card against Sounders 2 in 2015 and whose suspension carries over to Wednesday. However, the full squad is otherwise at head coach Cameron MacDonald’s disposition.
With only three substitutions allowed in Open Cup play rather than the six in league play, lineup selection becomes even more crucial. However, MacDonald knows that any perceived fitness benefit from the club’s extended preseason isn’t quite as vast as some might think.
“It’s true that we’ve been training together for longer than most if not all PDL clubs, but the teams we’re up against have fit players coming off their spring college seasons,” MacDonald said. “No game has been physically easy for us this year, and we’re not expecting that to be the case on Wednesday.”
As the Pumas have found out the hard way in league play and the Sounders did as well in their First Round match against a feisty Outbreak side, games between lower-league opposition usually means grinding out results. Teams might have to eschew the more aesthetically pleasing aspects of the game in favor of simply getting a win when it counts.
“It might not be pretty, but in some ways, that’s the beauty of cup football,” MacDonald said. “No game is easy, and no team can think it will coast through just because of the badge on their shirt.”