Kitsap Pumas look for payback as playoff hosts

Pumas defender Mark Lee dribbles against Portland Timbers U23 midfielder Michael Nielsen July 18 at Bremerton Memorial Stadium. - Brian J. Olson/Staff photo
Pumas defender Mark Lee dribbles against Portland Timbers U23 midfielder Michael Nielsen July 18 at Bremerton Memorial Stadium.
— image credit: Brian J. Olson/Staff photo

BREMERTON — The Kitsap Pumas have their hearts set on redemption.

This weekend, they will face the team that killed their league championship hopes a year ago. The Pumas (12-2-2) host the Ventura County Fusion (11-4-1) Saturday as part of a conference playoff double header at Bremerton Memorial Stadium.

It’s the second meeting between the two teams. Their first encounter, in the Premier Development League’s 2009 quarterfinals in Laredo, Texas, resulted in a 2-1 loss that ended Kitsap’s season. It also propelled Ventura to the league’s national semi-finals and eventually the national title game, which they won.

“I’d love to be able to stick one back at them,” Pumas goalkeeper Dustyn Brim said. “They beat us once, and they beat us when it mattered.”

This time, Kitsap has the advantage of playing on a field they know, in front of their hometown fans.

“The one thing we’ve experienced in the PDL is that fields are all so different,” Pumas head coach Peter Fewing said. “Our field, we’re the most comfortable with.”

Saturday’s games pit the top teams in the Northwest and Southwest divisions of the league’s Western Conference against each other. Play begins at 1:30 p.m., when the Portland Timbers U23 team, the top team in the Northwest, faces the Hollywood United Hitmen, the No. 2 squad from the Southwest. Kitsap, the second-place team in the Northwest, takes the field against Southwest leader Ventura at 5 p.m. The winners of those two matches will play for the Western Conference title Sunday at 5 p.m., also at Bremerton Memorial.

“It’s gonna be a battle,” Fewing said. “I hope that a lot of people come out to watch.”

The winner of Sunday’s game will advance to the league semi-finals to compete against the winners of the Eastern, Southern and Central conferences.

Portland may be the team to beat in the West, if not the nation. The Timbers (16-0-0) handed the Pumas their only two losses of the season and are the first unblemished team in the league since 1998. The possibility of a Kitsap-versus-Portland final looms, but the Pumas are focused on the immediate future.

“We can’t look past this first match we have,” Brim said. “Ventura finished first in their class for a reason.”

Ventura’s roster includes Bremerton native Kyle Johnson, who played for the Pumas last year. Fewing expects him to return to Kitsap with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder.

“Kyle will be highly motivated to come back and do well,” Fewing said.

Brim added that the Pumas have grown during the past year and they feel better prepared for the playoffs than they were in 2009.

“Talent-wise I think we’re a different team this year,” Brim said. “We have a lot of depth. Our division was stronger, that made us push a little harder as a team.”

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