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Pumas settle for tie in home opener
With the drone of bagpipes rumbling across fresh-cut grass, reverberating through grandstands soaked with both spectators and sun, the Kitsap Pumas proudly marched onto their home field.
The county's first fully professional soccer franchise made its long-awaited home debut May 15, playing to a 1-1 draw against the Tacoma Tide in front of 1,572 fans at Bremerton Memorial Stadium.
While the end result wasn't what the club had hoped for — it entered the game with 2-0-0 record and held a 1-0 lead at halftime — both coach John Wedge and his players said the home opener was a success on many levels.
"It was great," forward Spencer Schomaker said, referring to the atmosphere in the stadium. "The fans were awesome — cheering the whole game, chanting. Hearing the fans cheer, it definitely gets us going."
In fact, it was Schomaker who got the Pumas going in the first half, scoring in the 13th minute on a chip shot from about five yards out over the Tide goalkeeper to make it 1-0.
"It was really just an opportunity," said Schomkaer, who played for the Tide the past two seasons. "I jumped on my chance, and the goalie came out (of the goal) so I was able to chip it over him."
With goalie Dustyn Brim facing little pressure, the Pumas took the 1-0 lead into halftime.
But Tacoma (1-0-2) made a few adjustments at halftime, came out the aggressor and capitalized in the 73rd minute, when Tide forward Rory Agu bounced a shot between the legs of Brim, allowing Machael David to follow the shot with a score on the rebound.
In stoppage time, it appeared as though a Tide player committed a hand ball infraction in the penalty area, which would have given the Pumas a penalty kick, but the whistle never blew.
Neither team scored again, leaving the Pumas (2-0-1) with their first non-win of the season.
"The second half, we kind of let down and they started to take it to us," Schomaker said. "It wasn't really what we wanted coming out. The end result we would have liked to win, but it's not a loss."
As of Wednesday, the Pumas were tied with the Portland Timbers U23 and Seattle Wolves for first place in the Northwest Division of the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (USL PDL) Western Conference, each having seven points.
A win would have catapulted Kitsap to first place all alone.
"They started to dominate the second half," said coach John Wedge. "We were on the back foot a little bit and I felt we needed some fresh legs."
Wedge, who made six substitutions in the second half, said he wanted to get as many players in the game not only to keep his lineup fresh, but also so the players could experience the stadium buzz.
"I wanted as many people as possible to play in the home opener," he said. "It was fun."
Six yellow cards were handed out and tempers flared more than once, but Wedge said the game was no different than the club's pervious two in terms of physicality.
"It's a physical game at this level, that's the name of the game," Wedge said.
The 1,572 single-game attendance figure was higher than that of nearly every USL PDL through the first month of the season, according to executive director Ben Pecora. Only the Des Moines Menace, Fresno Fuego and West Texas United Sockers — none of which play in the Pumas' division — have posted higher attendance numbers.
"We're really pleased with the support the fans showed on opening night," Pecora said. "It's a great start. We've worked diligently to ensure that our prices are highly affordable and our amenities are first rate."
The club's goal has been to draw 3,000 fans per game. Whether that's still the case, Pecora said the front office is most concerned with putting a top-notch product on the field and to win matches.
"The most important thing is what goes on on the field," he said. "It is our goal to climb as high up the North American soccer pyramid as possible. We want Kitsap to become the Green Bay, Wis. of soccer."
It's too early to predict how attendance numbers will fluctuate, but the home opener drew a rather diverse group of fans. There were rowdy college-aged kids who hooted and hollered and chanted, families with children, current high school soccer players and casual followers of the sport, among others.
"It was a fantastic atmosphere, we're just sorry we couldn't get a win," Wedge said. "The crowd did its part, for sure."
Tomorrow, the Pumas host the Cascade Surge (1-1-0) in a U.S. Open-qualifying match. Kickoff is 7 p.m.