By Rob Shore
SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — It wasn’t playing away from Gordon Field or surrendering an early goal that did in Kitsap Soccer Club — its record this season on the road and in comeback victories should show that.
Take both factors and adding first-half injuries to defenders Tyler LaCourse and Tony Mota, a second-half red card to Romario Lomeli and conceding a second-half penalty was just too much to overcome.
Simon Rawnsley scored twice, including capitalizing on a rare gaffe by Kitsap SC keeper Paul-Andre Guerin, and CD Augiluchos USA defeated Kitsap SC 4-2 at Burrell Field on Saturday.
“I think we’re all hurting right now,” center back Joe Harris said. “It’s a short season, but we got pretty close as a group in that time. I think the ability and confidence to go further was definitely in the team. But we fell a bit short tonight — not for a lack of effort.”
With the win, CD Aguiluchos USA will move on to host Orange County FC in the Western Conference final on Saturday. Orange County upset top-seeded FC Arizona 2-0 in the other Western Conference semifinal.
Kitsap’s inaugural season in the NPSL ended with a 6-2-2 record, a Northwest Conference Division title and an ultimately disappointing exit in the second round of the playoffs. And it was the latter that was going to leave a bitter taste for some.
“Ending your season on a loss is difficult to swallow,” midfielder Chuy Sanchez said. “Once you get time to reflect on the season, you can start seeing the positives. But early on, it can be tough.”
It was early on, in fact — the second minute — when Aguiluchos landed the first blow on Kitsap.
Guerin, who has been fearless in coming off his line throughout the season, came out of the area to head away a troublesome high ball near the edge of the box. But the ball glanced off the Frenchman’s head and fell to Rawnsley’s feet for a tap-in.
And that immediately put Kitsap on the back foot.
“Obviously, giving up the first goal early in the game was not something we were thinking about to happen,” Kitsap head coach Roy Lassiter said. “With a team like this in this state of the championship race, we really dug ourselves a hole early.”
Kitsap’s best chances of the first half came in stoppage time — in one sequence, a Sanchez bicycle kick and a rebound shot by Jorge Ruiz could have been equalizers. But neither found the back of the net.
Instead, Kitsap had to deal with injuries to LaCourse and Mota, to an ankle sprain and a concussion, that ruled out half of its starting defense by halftime.
Aguiluchos added a second goal in the 64th minute, an Anthony De Souza seeing-eye through ball to Ross Middlemiss that split the Kitsap defense. Middlemiss fired past Guerin and Kitsap was in a 2-0 hole.
For a moment, it looked as if Kitsap would find its way out of it.
Four minutes later, De Souza brought down Sanchez in the box, which earned a red card and gave a penalty to the visitors. Ruiz converted the spot kick and pulled to within a goal. But it never got any closer.
Lomeli was sent off for a second yellow card in the 75th minute as the game started to get chippy, and Hamidou Kante brought down Jesus Maldonado shortly thereafter for a penalty — the first Kitsap had conceded all season.
Rawnsley converted the penalty, all but putting the game out of reach. Matthew Friere and Brian Charles added injury time goals for Aguiluchos and Kitsap, respectively.
“Unfortunately, we lost our way in the second half, things we were not able to recover from,” Lassiter said. “That’s kind of what hurt us at the end of the day.”
And the loss kind of hurt, too. Especially to a team that was used to coming back from such situations.
“There was every bit of confidence that we’d pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get back to it,” Harris said. “I think right up to the final whistle there was a belief we could have got a result.”