Saturday, January 22, 2005

A Little Background: the Utah Blitzz

This whole "MLS in Utah" dream started back in the early summer of 2004. At that time the best soccer around was being played by the Utah Blitzz of the US third division, known as the Premiere Select League (PSL). Due to my soccer junkie nature I was quite eager to make the 90 minute drive from Logan to Salt Lake to watch the Blitzz. I loved the intimate feel that came from watching lower division soccer with a couple thousand of your closest friends at most. Now, if you're familiar with Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah campus you'll realize that the set up is anything but intimate for a crowd of only a few thousand. My feelings are more towards the fact that the players were more than accessible. They were regular working class guys.

Not that soccer players in this country have ever really felt all that separated from average society as other professional athletes, but with a third division team it felt as though you were watch a buddy or neighbor play in the Saturday afternoon sun. Local boys like Jorge Estrada and Chad Sackett had regular day jobs as well as being soccer players. My personal favorite to watch was midfielder Matt Evans. He was California boy who was so smooth on the ball and very unpredictable in his movements. When ever there was a freekick with in 35-yards of the goal Evans would be there. He had an uncanny knack finding the holes in the defense during spot kicks.

At Blitzz games you could find a small group of hard core fans that would gather a few rows behind the visiting team's bench to sing and chant in support of the home side and raz the visitors. The group called themselves the R.A.F., standing for Radical Attitude Fans, and they never faltered in trying to spark the atmosphere in the stands. My first few games I observed from a distance, gathering up the courage to take the plunge and join the boisterous group. Having personal experience cheering with Sam's Army and other supporters groups over the years I felt that my place was with the R.A.F. I learned that they congregated on a discussion board, so rather than break the ice face to face like a normal person I integrated myself into their discussions about the team. In a short time I felt apart of the group and valued their camaraderie. The members of the R.A.F. are now the core members of the supporters groups for Real Salt Lake.

The Blitzz defied a lot of "expert analysis" and took the league title that year. Just as the playoffs were unfolding news started appearing about a guy named Dave Checketts who wanted to bring a Major League Soccer team to Salt Lake. Never did I think that anyone would take this area seriously when thinking about professional soccer. But, here we were in August with our Blitzz taking the PSL title and an official announcement that Salt Lake would indeed be the 12th team in MLS. The expansion meant the end of our beloved Blitzz, but it also opened another world of opportunity for not only soccer fans in Utah but sports fans in general.


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