Kitsap Pumas renew rivalry with Victoria Highlanders Saturday night in Bremerton

Match Preview Presented by Kitsap Sun
Pumas ready to kick off 2016 PDL season against Victoria Highlanders

Kitsap Pumas vs Victoria 203
The Pumas and Highlanders resume acquaintances on Saturday night.

Kitsap_Pumas_logo.svgBREMERTON, WA— (club release)  Kitsap Pumas head coach Cameron MacDonald said he is optimistic about the three-time Northwest Division champions ahead of the 2016 season, but he also confessed he will have a better read on his team in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the luxury of waiting that long, since the Pumas open the regular season Sunday at Gordon Field against the Victoria Highlanders.

Ready or not, it’s time for games that count.

“The feel I have right now is, it’s going to be a good team,” MacDonald said. “It’s just going to take time. We have to start playing games now and see what we’re about, but we have the makings of a good team.”

highlanderslogoThe Pumas ended the 2015 season in disappointing fashion, by allowing four goals in their first playoff game and being eliminated from PDL play by FC Tucson. MacDonald vowed to make changes and outdid himself with the acquisition of multiple new players, including PDL top prospect defender Kalem Scott and forwards Hamza Haddadi and Thomas Alcides. He also brought veteran midfielder Jesús Sánchez back to the club from Oklahoma City Energy.

Preseason results have been good, including 7-1, 5-1 and 3-1 wins over EPLWA sides. But players weren’t willing to get carried away with those scores.

“I feel like we’ve put in a lot of good work,” Sánchez said. “It’s preseason, and the opposition isn’t as tough as we’ll face in the league, but we’re ready to go.”

PDL Primary Shield“I think we’re OK,” added Cory Keitz, who is coming off a year in which he led the club to its first unbeaten regular season. “I certainly think that as a group, everyone’s ready now. Our season really starts now on Saturday, so we’re ready as we can be. The preseason has gone well, and I think everybody is looking forward to the PDL season to start.”

The Pumas, who finished 10-0-2 last season, including 5-0-1 at home, will be facing a Victoria Highlanders team that are returning to the PDL after a season in the Pacific Coast Soccer League, where they were defeated by Khalsa Sporting Club on penalty kicks in the final.

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The Highlanders celebrate a goal in Bremerton back in 2012.

The Pumas, however, aren’t concerned so much with Victoria as they are with their own team chemistry. Almost to a player, they agree it will take time to mesh so many new personalities. But they are hopeful that will be accomplished sooner rather than later.

“It will take time,” said midfielder Trevor Jensen, who returns to Kitsap for a third consecutive season, “especially for the younger guys coming into a new environment, new players, new staff, new way of playing. That’s why things in preseason are never smooth. It’s always up and down. We don’t want to use that as an excuse; we want to get off to a flying start.”

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Pumas – Highlanders in 2010.

Jensen said he likes the make-up of this year’s squad and was not surprised at the number of changes in personnel.

“When you perform as you did, normally on any team, regardless of who you are, there are always going to be changes,” he said. “We made the changes and I think the players we brought in … we brought back Mikey (Ramos), Nick Hamer’s an experienced player, (Matt) Eronemo, (Matt) Grosey, top, top players … certainly if you look on paper, we’re a very strong team.

“I’m sure you’ll see an exciting Pumas team this year.”

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Pumas celebrate a goal against the Highlanders in 2010. (Jenni Conner)

KITSAP PUMAS vs. VICTORIA HIGHLANDERS
GORDON FIELD, Bremerton, Wash.
May 7, 2016 (WEEK 1, PDL Game #1)
7 p.m. PT

One of the most exciting rivalries in all of the PDL is renewed to open the 2016 season when the Kitsap Pumas play host to the Victoria Highlanders at Gordon Field on Saturday evening. The Pumas again reached the PDL Playoffs—for the third consecutive year—in 2015, but fell in the knockout round. Victoria has an outstanding PDL résumé, winning the Northwest Division in 2013 before a second-place finish in 2014.

REFEREE: Benjamin Moore. AR1 (bench): Rachel Cabacungan; AR2 (opposite): Sean O’Neil; 4th: Raul Sheran

SUSPENDED: none
DISABLED LIST: none
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (10 meetings): Pumas 4 wins, 9 goals … Victoria 5 wins, 13 goals … Ties 1
AT Kitsap (5 meetings): Pumas 3 wins, 7 goals … Victoria 2 wins, 7 goals … Ties 0

LAST YEAR (PDL):
No corresponding fixture

• This is the first league meeting between the teams this season.
• Victoria finished second to Kitsap in 2014 before losing 7-2 on aggregate to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the play-in round.
• The Pumas have a three-year, sixteen-match home undefeated streak in the PDL.

The Kitsap Pumas enter their eighth season in the Premier Development League in 2016 after winning the Northwest Division for the fourth time in 2015. The Pumas won the PDL national championship in 2011 and advanced to the national final again in 2014, establishing themselves as a reputable professional club with a proven record of moving players onto the next level in the process. Kitsap plays its home matches at Gordon Field, an intimate 1,500-capacity stadium on the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Bremerton, Wash.

— #AllezPumas —

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