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Pumas battling for final playoff spot in division
The Kitsap Pumas are out to settle an old score.
The team is on the hunt for a second consecutive playoff berth, but standing in its way is the undefeated Portland Timbers U23 squad. The last time the two clubs met, on June 5 in Portland, the Timbers beat Kitsap 3-0, giving the Pumas their only loss of the regular season.
“The last time we played Portland, we looked pretty disjointed as a team,” Pumas goalkeeper Garrett Staples said. “They exploited any errors we made and put us under a lot of pressure. They’re very organized, and they have quality players, and that makes them a formidable opponent.”
The Timbers (14-0-0) are in first place in the Northwest Division of the United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League, with 42 points. They also have the best record nationwide, and have outscored their opponents 45-4. Portland clinched one of two open playoff spots in the division after beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 on July 11.
Kitsap (10-1-2) sits in second place in the division, with 32 points, just three ahead of the Tacoma Tide (9-3-2). The Pumas control their own destiny, with three games remaining in the regular season. After Sunday’s game against Portland, they play at Vancouver July 21 before finishing the season at Tacoma July 24.
“We set the goal to win out the rest of the season,” Staples said. “You go into every game expecting to win.”
Sunday’s game will be Portland’s last of the season. They also play Saturday at Victoria. Tacoma is at home for its final two games, against the Washington Crossfire Saturday and Kitsap July 24.
The Pumas took a step toward the playoffs Tuesday night with a 1-0 win over Seattle’s Washington Crossfire. Eli Gordley put in the game’s only goal in the 74th minute.
Kitsap can clinch the division’s only remaining playoff spot with at least one more win and one tie, or with just a tie if Tacoma loses on Saturday.
No matter the outcome of Tacoma’s Saturday game, Kitsap has no intention of letting up.
“It shouldn’t change how we play or what our mentality is during the game,” Staples said.
Staples and teammate Steve Mohn said Sunday’s game against Portland is a bit of a grudge match, and they know what needs to happen to get a win.
“One of the big keys for us will be keeping possession,” Mohn said. “When we played down there, I felt like we were just kind of chasing the game.”
With five wins and two ties since their loss to the Timbers, the Pumas feel improved, and believe they can make any adjustments needed to win.
“We’re playing much better as a team to hold the ball and move it around, so I think that’s going to make a huge difference when we play Portland,” Staples said. “As long as we don’t give them soft spots to exploit, it should be a very different result this weekend.”