The Kitsap Pumas continued their unbeaten PDL season and clinched the PDL NW Division title outright for the second time in two weeks with a 3-0 victory over the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps Residency Saturday night in Bremerton.
by Alison Slow Loris and Ian Logan
The Pumas had clinched the division title with a draw the weekend before against Washington Crossfire. Late this week, however, they lost four points in the standings as a penalty for failing to include one of their players on the roster in a game earlier this season. Those lost four points left Kitsap able to be tied for the division title by the Victoria Highlanders, meaning that the Pumas once again needed at least a point from their match to claim the division title as their own.
As in the game last week at North Sound, injuries kept several Kitsap players out of action, although the starting line-up was closer than before to what it was during most of the season. The near-impervious back four of Mark Lee, Taylor Hyde, Dan Scott and Steve Mohn started in front of Bryan Meredith in goal. Nik Besagno anchored the midfield, David Gray and Kyle Johnson were on the wings, and Robbie Christner started at central attacking midfield in place of Matt Friesen. With so many recent injuries among defenders and midfielders, the versatile Christner’s ability to play midfield has been invaluable, especially as he keeps pressing forward. Bryan Burke and Warlen Silva, fresh off their dominating performances at North Sound, started at forward.
The Pumas continued a troubling trend of slow starts, as Vancouver had the better of the chances in the first minutes of the match. Neither side was helped by the field conditions, as occasional rain had made the field slippery and the players’ footing uncertain. The Pumas got on the scoreboard shortly before the half as Robbie Christner scored off an assist from Bryan Burke, sending the Pumas into the half up 1-0.
The second half saw better play from Kitsap, as their improved passing created several good chances for more goals. Warlen Silva displayed his usual extraordinary control of the ball in the Vancouver box, recovering it once and then twice as the keeper parried it away, before burying his third kick in the back of the Vancouver net. Only a few minutes after that Bryan Burke turned the corner on the Vancouver defense and, from the left side of the penalty area, blasted in a shot right past the helpless Whitecaps ‘keeper to complete the scoring. The Pumas defense weathered a late Vancouver storm that saw several good chances on the Kitsap goal, but the Pumas defenders, Bryan Meredith, and the crossbar all conspired to keep the game 3-0 to the Pumas.
Next up for the Pumas is a match we have been looking forward to since the schedule was first announced—Tuesday at 7pm they will be playing England’s Port Vale FC in the Pumas’ first-ever international friendly match. They then conclude their league regular season with a game at Victoria, where they have yet to win a match, next weekend. After that comes the playoffs, with the location for the first two games yet-to-be announced.
KIT: Robbie Christner (Bryan Burke) 44, KIT: Warlen Silva 83, KIT: Bryan
Cautions: VAN Yassin Essa 35, VAN: Alex Morfaw 39, KIT
Nick Besagno 89, VAN: Alex Rowley 90+
Referees: Ronald Lagraff, Ian Johnson, Chipalo Street
Matt Friesen was still held out due to a slight groin strain. Elliott Fauske is also nursing injuries and did not dress for the match, but both players tell us they expect to be fit to play next week. Taylor Hyde returned to the starting lineup after missing the previous game and showed no ill-effects from the layoff.
This shutout concludes a remarkable regular season at home for the Pumas—in the eight PDL league games in Bremerton they did not give up any goals during the run of play, and conceded a total of two goals (on penalty kicks by Victoria and Abbotsford). The Real Colorado Foxes, the Pumas’ opponents in the second round of the US Open Cup, scored the only other goal allowed by Kitsap at home this year. The Pumas’ total of 8 goals against has them tied with the Chicago Fire for second-fewest allowed, behind the Thunder Bay Chill who have allowed only 6 goals at home so far this year.
We thought the refereeing was remarkably balanced in difficult conditions. With many players slipping and falling on the wet grass, often bringing down their neighbors with them, it could not have always been easy to distinguish accidents from fouls from simulations. While it’s always possible to argue an individual call, overall it seemed pretty fair. We do wonder, however, if there’s a new fashion in refereeing to ignore handballs, as we have seen eight or ten obvious ones allowed to pass unpunished in the last two weeks alone.
The Hellcats had trouble selecting a Man of the Match from among several outstanding performers. With our votes tied three ways between Kyle Johnson, Taylor Hyde and Mark Lee, we agreed to let our undecided member make the call, and he chose Johnson. It’s a treat to see Johnson back in the place he occupied in the Pumas’ first year, and since his return from a concussion early in the season he has been faster, more fearless and more powerful than ever.