By Neil Pierson

The first time Puget Sound Gunners FC and the Seattle Sounders U23s met this season, the result was a humbling 5-0 defeat for a Gunners squad that didn’t perform up to its capabilities.

“The first time we played the Sounders, it was a disaster,” coach Alex Silva said.

The July 11 rematch at Issaquah High School was different. Puget Sound had an early lead and seemed to be headed for its sixth tie in 12 matches, but the Sounders grabbed a second-half stoppage time goal from Jonathan Campbell to swipe all three points, 2-1.

Gunners FC (0-7-5, 5 points) finished at the bottom of the seven-team Premier Development League Northwest Division, but Silva had no doubts his players performed better than their record indicated.

In particular, their last three matches showed marked improvement. After a second-half collapse against the Portland Timbers U23s, the Gunners earned a 1-1 tie in the June 28 rematch. They followed that up with a scoreless tie against Calgary Foothills FC in which they controlled the pace of play and had several quality scoring chances.

The season finale against Seattle was no different as the Gunners took 13 shots, forced three saves from goalkeeper Paul Christensen, and went on top in the first half as forward Daniel Gavin notched his second goal of the season.

“He missed most of the first part of the season,” Silva said of Gavin, who plays collegiately at the University of Washington. “He was fired up again coming up against the Sounders, and he’s a big body up front, helps out a lot.”

Second-place Seattle (7-3-1, 22 points), which will face Portland in a play-in game to the PDL playoffs, leveled the score before halftime on Guillermo Delgado’s team-leading fifth goal of the season.

“They had a great shot from outside the box to the low corner, no chance (for goalkeeper Ryan Herman),” Silva said of the play.

Herman, another UW player, made six saves against the Sounders, and helped galvanize a leaky Gunners back line that surrendered 23 goals in its first nine PDL matches.

They allowed only three goals in their last three outings, with Herman starting the final two games, and Issaquah High School’s Ian Lambert playing well in the tie against Portland.

“He makes everybody confident,” Silva said of Herman, a 6-foot-7 behemoth who went 3-0 at UW last season. “He has a lot of experience … so you can see when he’s in goal, everybody gets comfortable. He certainly helped the defensive line a lot by communicating with them.”

While Gunners FC finished with a winless record, it wasn’t a true reflection of how the season went, Silva said.

The team didn’t have its full complement of players for much of the season, hampering its chemistry, and coughed up key goals in the final five minutes of three matches, costing a total of four points.

“You finish in last place, but for someone who has really watched us, there are worse teams than us, and we just didn’t get the points,” Silva said.

One of the highlights of the summer, he said, was getting Lambert and fellow goalkeeper Cameron Oen, two Issaquah Soccer Club products, some playing time at a higher level.

“This kind of reinforces that commitment to the younger players for their growth in the years to come, and that’ll help the club as a whole,” Silva said.

Gunners FC made good on its main mission within the PDL, he added.

“We want to make sure the players get developed, and that’s a goal,” Silva said. “Hopefully, we help them out in their fall league in college, and that’ll impact them for the rest of their lives.”