By Rob Shore
The first step for the Kitsap Pumas will be to wipe away the disappointment of a first-round exit in the U.S. Open Cup.
Pumas head coach Liviu Bird made it clear on Friday that league play was always the important factor — defending their National Premier Soccer League Northwest Division title and beyond.
With the start of the league season on Saturday at PDX FC at Concordia University in Portland, it’s easy to bring the season back into focus. After Tuesday night’s 5-0 road loss to the Timbers U23s, that can only be a good thing.
“The message from the very beginning is the league is the focus and the (U.S.) Open Cup is a bonus,” Bird said. “That was our first competitive game together, the early red card in that game that made it pretty easy to flush that game away and forget about it, to be honest with you. It’s a game, a situation that wont happen again this season and circumstances that we won’t face again.
“I don’t think we’ll be affected by it at all, to be honest with you.”
Kickoff will be at 6 p.m. There will be a special visitors section for Pumas fans with free admission.
Midfielder Brian Charles said the league’s busy schedule would make it easy to get past the bad result.
“It’s good because you’re able to bounce back quickly and you dont have to linger and dwell on the last game too much,” Charles said. “You have to shift focus quickly, and that’s kind of how this league is kind of organized. You always have a next game, next game, next game.”
It was two early road trips to Portland that kept Kitsap going in 2017, first a 3-2 comeback over FC Mulhouse Portland, then a 2-1 triumph over PDX FC.
But PDX FC defeated Kitsap 2-1 on the final day of the regular season, a game that kept them from earning a home game in the second round of the NPSL playoffs. Goals from Blake Leonetti and Jake Young — Young’s match-winner came in injury time — proved the difference.
Both Leonetti and Young are back with PDX FC this season.
“They’ll be hard to beat, just like every team in this league is,” Bird said. “They’ll work hard. They’ll be athletic. They’ll be physical. It’s just the level of play that we’re at. And it’s their first home game, so they will be hungry for a result as well and they’ll probably have a good crowd there.”
One positive from Tuesday’s game is that center back Kevin Francis’ red card will not carry over into a suspension for the league. Francis’ suspension will be for next season’s U.S. Open Cup.
But Bird saw some other things that he liked from the loss.
“We showed some flashes of the things we want to do,” he said. “We pressed well in the second half, and we came out well at halftime and we took the game to them right away. A lot of things came together in a way that it just wasn’t our night. We’ll be all right.”
Charles said it was important to start the season with a good result, but equally important to be able to move their mindset to the next challenge.
“If you start off on a good note, you can oftentimes carry that through,” he said. “But even then, with a win or whatever may be, it’s just focusing on Saturday and once that game’s over, it’s what can you get our of the next game.”