After the final whistle, Mike Scharf paced the turf of Gordon Field, staring unseeing into the trees that circle the facility.
The Pumas last hopes of earning a playoff berth this season were gone, all that was left was for the Kitsap captain was to think about what might have been.
“Most of all, I was thinking about the fight the guys put not only in this game, but all season,” Scharf said. “The effort was always there.”
On this night, that effort and fight wasn’t enough. FC Mulhouse Portland earned its third victory over the Pumas this season with a 2-1 victory.
Fred Braun converted a first-half spot kick – the first penalty Kitsap had surrendered in two seasons – and Alex White tacked on a goal just before halftime, and that was enough for the visitors.
The Pumas got on the board late with a Brian Charles penalty in the 88th minute. Then a Kevin Francis ball at the death clanged off the woodwork.
But the tying goal – which would have kept Kitsap’s postseason hopes alive – proved elusive.
“At the beginning, we didn’t bring the energy that we had to,” forward Tomas Jamett said. “In the second half, we did and it wasn’t enough. If we had one more half, we might have tied them, but we had to bring that energy from the beginning.”
The victory clinched a playoff spot for FC Mulhouse Portland (5-2-4, 19 points) for the second straight season. Kitsap (4-5-2, 14 points) fell out of playoff contention with a game left to play.
The Mulhouse penalty came in the 11th minute as Christian Thyron’s cross into the box clipped Jack Sluys’ arm, and the referee immediately pointed to the spot.
Suddenly, in this must-win game, the Pumas were chasing.
“It was a tough break,” Sluys admitted. “I felt we had the momentum, I thought we were moving the ball well, then all of a sudden we were down 1-0.”
Jamett admitted the penalty affected the mood of the team on the pitch.
“I think it wasn’t a penalty,” he said “But that affects the level of the team, the level of energy affects everything on the field.”
Mulhouse added another goal in the 43rd minute, as Alex White got on the end of a goal kick and rifled the ball past Kitsap keeper Marc Girones.
The second half brought a more incisive Pumas attack, but that didn’t show up on the scoresheet until Sam Gomez was bundled over in the penalty box. Brian Charles converted the penalty, pulling within 2-1.
And a bit of magic by Francis almost equalized at the end, lofting a cross toward goal that drifted dangerously toward the net.
“The keeper I could tell, he thought it was a cross and it started fading toward the back post,” Sluys said. “I thought it was going to drop in. Unfortunately, it hit the woodwork.”
The Pumas pointed out the experience difference for Mulhouse as one of the reasons the Portland side swept all three meetings.
“They have some real experience out there,” Sluys said. “They knew how to manage the game, possess and play as a unit.”
While Bird admitted the experience was a factor, he also pointed out Mulhouse’s pressure game had bothered Kitsap all season.
“They don’t let you breathe for even a second,” he said. “It’s a real pressure situation whenever you play against them, every single touch, every single play you’re under pressure and I think we struggled with that all three times we played against them.”
Kitsap concludes the season on Saturday against conference leaders Spokane SC Shadow (6-0-4, 22 points), in a contest slated for a 7:00 pm kickoff.
Contributor: Rob Shore/Kitsap Pumas
Photo Credit: Kurt W. DeVoe/Kitsap Pumas