By Rob Shore
In the short season of the National Premier Soccer League, Kitsap Pumas head coach Liviu Bird isn’t one to subscribe to the notion that one game holds any more significance than any other. And he really doesn’t go for the notion of must-win games — not at this point of the season, anyway.
There is an exception to his no-game-is-more-important philosophy: The most important game is the next game. Period.
But in tonight’s contest against OSA FC at Starfire Sports in Tukwila, it might be a case where that all-important next game is actually pretty important.
Just don’t tell that to Bird before tonight’s kickoff at 7 p.m.
“I think every game is just that,” Bird said. ‘It’s just another game, another opportunity. It’s another chance to learn, another chance to grow as a team. Another chance to react.”
The Pumas (1-1-2, 5 points) and OSA FC (1-1-2, 5 point) are separated in the Northwest Conference Division standings only by goal differential — the Pumas hold a slight edge with a plus-1 differential to OSA FC’s minus-3.
So a victory tonight would go a long way toward establishing the Pumas as a playoff contender this season. Trailing FC Mulhouse Portland (2-1-2, 8 points) by three points with a game in hand, Kitsap could even match the division leaders on points with a win tonight.
“It’s huge,” left back Mike Scharf said. “We want to bounce back and put ourselves in contention for top of the table again. So crosstown rival OSA is always a big game for us, home or away. And that game is even bigger for us.”
Goalkeeper Cody Lang admitted that Saturday’s game was important, but also acknowledged that, in a short season, they all are crucial.
“Every game’s important in the league,” he said. “We don’t want to drop points ever, so we’ll come out better next week.”
If coming to Starfire needing a win sounds familiar, it mimics Kitsap’s position last season, when it needed a win to solidify its position. A Santi DiGiuseppe wonder goal — DiGiuseppe admitted afterward it might have been a cross — sealed Kitsap’s 1-0 victory and ignited a late-season march toward the division title.
The other factor is that this will be the first team the Pumas will have seen twice this season, giving Bird the chance to make some adjustments after the first meeting.
It’s also an important contest as it will be Kitsap’s chance to bounce back from its first loss of the league season. But Bird thinks the club has the makeup to do just that.
“The character in this locker room can’t be questioned,” Bird said. “We’ve come back from much worse than this, if you look at the U.S. Open Cup result (a 5-0 loss to Portland Timbers U-23s), the way that we responded to that was with our best performance of the season so far in terms of the end result. I would expect nothing less than a quality result on Saturday.”