Pumas take down Tacoma in home opener

Mark Lee of the Kitsap Pumas defends against the Tacoma Tide
Mark Lee of the Kitsap Pumas defends against the Tacoma Tide's Daniel Gray, right, Saturday at Bremerton Memorial Stadium. Lee had the Pumas' first goal in the Pumas' 3-0 win over the Tide.
— image credit: Brian J. Olson/Staff photo

BREMERTON – The Kitsap Pumas are just three games into their 16-game season, but the team is already on track toward repeating as division champions.

In their May 15 home opener at Bremerton Memorial Stadium, the Pumas subdued division rival Tacoma Tide FC to take a 3-0 victory. The win boosted Kitsap’s record to 3-0-0. The team has not allowed a goal since a preseason match against the Portland Timbers U23 team in early April.

“We’re getting better,” Pumas coach Peter Fewing said. “We’re getting more comfortable, starting to settle down and find our rhythm.”

Pumas defender Mark Lee scored first in the home opener, in the 17th minute on an unassisted shot 18 yards in front of the left post. Newcomer Cameron Hepple gave the Pumas a boost with a goal from almost the same spot, less than a minute before halftime.

“It was great with the timing of our goals, to get that one right before half,” Fewing said.

Saturday’s contest was closer than the scoreboard indicated. The Tide outshot the Pumas 13-12 and thrice came within inches of the net. One early shot slammed into the crossbar, while two others were barely knocked away on diving saves by keeper Dustyn Brim.

“When it was 1-0 and Dustyn made that save, that was huge,” Fewing said.

Brim has two-and-a-half of the team’s three shutouts this season. Garrett Staples has the other half-game shutout.

The home opener doubled as Kitsap’s first rivalry game of the 2010 season. The Tide are the Pumas’ closest opponent, just a 45-minute drive to the south, and twice a year the two clubs compete for the Narrows Bridge Bell trophy. The Pumas lead the series, 2-0-1 since joining the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League last year.

Two former Pumas starters – Mark Conrad and Spencer Schomaker – were traded to the Tide in the offseason, turning up the rivalry's heat. The two teams combined for three yellow cards and 14 fouls in the first half – 11 of which were called against the Pumas.

“We have the proximity, of course. That’s always going to make it a decent rivalry,” Brim said. “And a couple of our guys are over playing for them. Being the home opener, that just adds to it.”

After staving off the Tide in the first half, Kitsap came out shooting in the second half. Nik Besagno thrust the dagger when he pinballed a shot into the bottom-right corner of the net from the top of the penalty box in the 49th minute.

“I said to them at halftime, ‘Keep possession of the ball, no more fouls, and one more goal,’” Fewing said. “You could see in the second half that we killed their will by making them chase, and with that third goal.”

The Pumas’ offensive success also took the pressure off of Brim and the defense.

“When they can get those goals, it can kind of smooth you into the game a little bit more,” Brim said.

The Pumas are tied with the Victoria Highlanders for first place in the league’s Northwest Division. Kitsap has outscored its first three opponents, 10-0.

“We’re so deep. Every position has mad competition,” Brim said. “Being so deep at every position like that, our team is pushed really well together. We just have to go out there and keep it going for a couple more months. We take it in stride, one game at a time.”

The Pumas play their next game at 7:30 p.m. May 22 at home against Seattle’s Washington Crossfire.

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