By ROB SHORE
BREMERTON, Wash. — .For much of the season, the Kitsap Pumas have been laser-focused on the next game of the season as the most important — no matter the opponent, home or away.
But it’s safe to say that never this season has the next game been this important. The Pumas host FC Mulhouse Portland on Wednesday in a must-win game to keep their postseason ambitions alive.
Kickoff for Wednesday night’s game at Gordon Field will be at 7 p.m. It will be Kids Day at Gordon Field, with children 12 and under admitted to the contest for free.
“Obviously, Wednesday is not only the most important game because it’s the next game, but it’s the biggest game for us this year,” left back Mike Scharf said. “We want to be a team that’s in the the playoffs, and we always want to be a team that’s in contention. We come out (to Gordon Field) every day, and we plan to do that on the field on Wednesday.”
The contest will come four days after a 4-1 loss to the same FC Mulhouse Portland team on Saturday at Kiggins Field in Vancouver, Wash. The Pumas had evened the score at 1-1 just before halftime, but Mulhouse pulled away with three strikes in the second half.
Most disappointingly, all four goals came on individual errors by Kitsap, errors that will need to be cut out on Wednesday to keep their hopes intact.
“Individually, we just need to be sharper,” Pumas head coach Liviu Bird said. “You can set up the team as well as you want to, and you can try to do certain things, but individually, if you’re not on point, that’s not going to matter. Cut out the individual mistakes and I think the result turns for us.”
Whether or not Kitsap can cut out these miscues will be the biggest question going into Wednesday night.
Bird thinks that the contest coming so quickly after Saturday’s loss will be a benefit. Mulhouse has beaten Kitsap twice this season, with Alex White scoring in both victories.
“That result will still be in everybody’s mind, which for us, should be a good motivator,” he said. “If (FC Mulhouse Portland are) not careful, it could make them a bit more complacent, considering they’ve beaten us twice this year.”
The Pumas will also have the advantage of playing on the pitch where they conduct most of their training.
“I think it will be huge,” center back Jack Sluys said of playing at home. “We don’t have to worry about travel, and we won’t have heavy legs from being in the car all day. We’ll get help from the crowd supporting us, and I think it will help us mentally.”
But the Pumas will be in a position they haven’t experienced yet this season — a game they need to win to retain control of their postseason hopes.
How the players will respond to having their backs against the wall will ultimately play a big part in the result on Wednesday night.
“It will be interesting to see, for sure,” Bird said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t really know what you’ve got unti you’re in a situation like this.”
But the players believe they’ll be able to meet the challenge.
“The best teams really show their character in tough situations,” Scharf said. “We have our backs against the wall a bit. We haven’t put a lot of pressure on ourselves (this season). … But this game is really about results, and we’re really focused on Wednesday.”
“I think we’ll respond,” he said. “ When our backs are against the wall, we rise to the occasion.”