So much for an MLS test run.
With rumors circulating around the country about a potential MLS expansion franchise in Salt Lake City in 2005, the Utah Blitzz had an opportunity to bring an MLS team into town a year early.
All Utah needed was to win its U.S. Open Cup third-round game against the A-League's Portland Timbers Wednesday night, and then Landon Donovan and his San Jose Earthquakes would be coming to town.
Several missed scoring opportunities in the first half by Fadi Afash and two costly mistakes by the otherwise efficient Rich Breza were too much to overcome.
Portland's Byron Alvarez and Alex Bengard each scored first-half goals and then the Timbers held off a furious Utah rally to walk away with a 2-1 Open cup victory over the Blitzz. It'll be Portland not Utah that hosts San Jose in mid-July.
"There's a reason we're a division three team and they're a division two team," said Chris Agnello, a very pleased Blitzz coach. "Their budget is five to six times as much as ours."
With that said, no one really expected the Blitzz to beat the best A-League team West of the Mississippi this year.
Against the upper-division Timbers, Agnello knew his team needed to play cautiously. Judging by his 5-4-1 defensive formation to start the game, he was clearly hoping to keep the score low.
To accomplish that, Agnello started defensive midfielder Damian Munoz over leading scorer, and ex-Timber, Afash. Just three minutes after subbing into the game in the 26th minute, Afash missed a golden opportunity to put the underdog Blitzz ahead.
After his defender toppled over, Afash dribbled toward the charging goalie on a glorious one-on-one situation. He easily danced around the keeper, but appeared to panic when he saw a Portland defender sprint back into the keeper's position between the post. Instead of cracking a quick shot, he dribbled once toward the defender who then easily blocked the shot.
"He got unlucky and missed it," said Agnello.
Afash again missed a great chance two minutes later on a cross from Kiko Medina.
Things began to unravel in the 33rd minute when an errant pass by Breza out of the back was intercepted, creating a 3-on-3 situation for Portland. The younger and faster Timbers easily converted the chance into an Alvarez goal.
"Within three touches it was in the back of the net," said Agnello.
Portland then went ahead 2-0 in the 41st minute on a free kick by Bengard that redirected off the back of a Blitzz player and easily past Utah keeper Chad Sackett. The opportunity was created on a needless foul by Breza about 25 yards from the goal.
"Richie gives us so much on the field, it's hard to fault him for too much," said Agnello. "For all the mistakes he makes, he more than makes up for them for this franchise."
Twenty minutes into the second half, Breza avenged one of his first-half miscues by setting up Afash's 65th minute goal on a cross from the left flank.
During the final 25 minutes, Utah's Jacobi Goodfellow missed an excellent 12-yard shot, and newcomer Jason Boyce banged a well-driven shot off the crossbar.
ENDLINES: Goodfellow was red-carded in the 88th minute for what the Blitzz felt was an "unprofessional" flop by Portland's Gavin Wilkinson. Utah returns to action this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against Yakima of the PDL. Agnello believed that Utah defender Tommy Rutter was the man of the match.