By Rob Shore
BREMERTON, Wash. — The supporters had barely filed out of Gordon Stadium on Wednesday night before the Kitsap Pumas had to start thinking about their biggest away match of the season to date.
The Pumas (3-1-2, 11 points) will face unbeaten Spokane SC Shadow (2-0-3, 9 points) on Saturday, a game that will have huge ramifications on the NPSL Northwest Conference Division race. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. at Spokane SC Shadow Soccer Complex.
“Spokane is always a tough trip because of the distance,” Kitsap head coach Liviu Bird said. “You see the results they’re getting at home. It’s not an easy place to go.”
Nor is Spokane an easy team to play, as the Shadow is one of two unbeaten teams left in the NPSL’s West Region. In the teams’ first meeting at Gordon Field on May 20, Kitsap earned a 2-2 draw against Spokane with the Pumas needing a penalty by Alvaro Rubio in the 84th minute to save a point.
The Shadow is also notable for having a couple of former Pumas on the roster in Mike Ramos and Nick Hamer, players that will definitely have the attention of the Kitsap players and coaches. Ramos had a goal and an assist against his old team in their first meeting this season.
“They have a couple of dangerous individual players who used to play for us, so we know them well,” Bird said with a chuckle. ”But in a lot of ways, they do similar things that we do. They try to attack and play positively and on the front foot. It makes it a good game, and it made it a good game the last time we played them.”
With Saturday’s game, the Pumas will be finishing up a stretch with five games in 15 days. But any questions of fatigue setting in has been answered with Kitsap earning back-to-back wins against OSA FC and PDX FC.
But the Pumas are aware that Spokane presents a different challenge. Among other things, Saturday’s game will be the first time they’ll play a game on natural grass, which the Pumas trained for going into the contest.
Spokane has won its only game at home so far this season, a 3-0 victory over OSA FC.
“We know Spokane, we know the players,” left back Mike Scharf said. “And we’ll know going in it’s one versus two, so getting three points there is going to be huge to us.”
And the Pumas’ road record has been immaculate with a seven-game regular-season winning streak away from Gordon Field over the past two season. Kitsap earned a 1-0 victory in their visit to Spokane last season, with Jorge Ruiz scoring the winner.
“They’re a good team, so we’ll travel up there and do our best,” midfielder Ismael DeLuna said. “We feel pretty comfortable on the road.”
Bird noted that the top spot in the Northwest halfway through the season isn’t a bad place to be ahead of this huge matchup.
“We’re halfway through the season; if you’d asked me if we’d be six games in and be top of the table, would I take it?” he said. “Absolutely, you’d take it every time. That being said, you see how tight the table is in this league, top tobottom, it’s cramped. Anybody can beat anybody,one versus two, one versus five, they’re all big games.”