By Rob Shore
BREMERTON, Wash. – Almost to a man afterward, the players for Kitsap Soccer Club called winning the NPSL Northwest Division “The First Goal” or “Goal No. 1.” The inference that bigger goals remained after that went left unsaid.
Maybe now those players can move on to the next goal.
Nico D’Amato scored a deflected goal from outside the penalty box in the 69th minute, and that was enough to life Kitsap SC over FC Mulhouse Portland 1-0 and clinch the NPSL Northwest Division title.
And it came as Kitsap SC earned its first home victory of the NPSL season.
The victory pushed Kitsap SC (6-1-2) to 20 points with a game left to play against PDX FC on Wednesday night. FCM Portland (6-4-0) ended the regular season as the division’s second seed when the playoffs begin next Saturday.
“It’s everything, it’s our first goal,” captain Chuy Sanchez said of winning the division title. “We want to get into the playoffs and go far into it and the first way to do that is to win the division.”
Head coach Roy Lassiter echoed the comments that bigger goals remained.
“I’d like to win the whole thing,” he said. “But this is a good step. … There’s more work to be done, there’s more games to play and we’re looking forward to going as far as we can with it.”
Kitsap SC goalkeeper Paul-Andre Guerin did his part, recording his third clean sheet in his last four games.
D’Amato’s goal was a breakthrough in a tense game with few goalscoring opportunities. But it came in a second half when Kitsap kept the pressure on FCM Portland keeper Dorian Lair.
“The ball bounced out and I took a touch and hit it on target,” D’Amato said. “And it went in, so I’m happy.”
The goal came after a frenzied sequence that saw a D’Amato chip hit the goalpost and a Habib Barry header cleared off the line.
It then led to a frantic final 20 minutes, with Kitsap seeking a second goal for breathing room and FCM Portland looking for an equalizer that would keep their own division title hopes alive.
That search for an equalizer almost came to fruition in the game’s final moments.
An FCM Portland corner kick deep in injury time brought forward Lair in a last-gasp try for goal, but the kick went right into a leaping Guerin’s gloves.
The visitors were gifted a golden chance to equalize moments later, when leading goal-scorer Luis Galeano got the ball inside the penalty area with enough room to get off a shot.
But Galeano’s shot soared well over the crossbar. Full time was called with the ball still in the air.
The frantic second half came after a first half where chances were at a premium.
Neither team managed a good chance on net in the first half. Ruiz fired a shot off the top corner of the goal post, coming after a long shot by Sanchez carried just over the bar. But Kitsap and FCM Portland both struggled for quality chances.
The victory ensures Kitsap SC no worse than the No. 3 seed in the NPSL Western Conference. It will likely host either FCM Portland or Sonoma County Sol FC next Saturday in the first week of the playoffs.