Blitzz 1, Fireballs 0
Alex Pogman began the season with Tucson, so naturally two months later as a member of the Utah Blitzz he wanted nothing more than to beat his ex-mates Friday night. Thanks to B.J. McNicol, it happened.
McNicol connected on a 25-yard free kick in the 68th minute to provide the game's lone goal as Utah defeated Tucson, 1-0.
"This was big. We don't think we're the third-place team in the division, and we don't think they're the first-place team," said McNicol.
Entering the game, Tucson led Utah by seven points in the standings, but with the Blitzz's win they've cut the deficit to three points. The same two teams meet again tonight, and considering the game escalated to a physical, tension-filled match by the final whistle on Friday, the rematch should be a war.
"It's very difficult to play back-to-back games," said Blitzz coach Chris Agnello. "We got the win we wanted. Coming in, if we were to split, this weekend was a success."
Pogman, who started and played 80 minutes Friday, hopes he gets a similar chance tonight.
Pogman played four games with Tucson at the beginning of the season, but they weren't joyful times, so he quit the team to pursue other options. Utah jumped at the chance to sign the creative midfielder, but there was one problem; he was "cup tied."
It's a technical soccer term, but it prevented Utah from signing Pogman when it wanted to in May. One of the four games he played with Tucson was a U.S. Open Cup game, hence being cup tied. Basically, he couldn't play with any team with Cup games remaining, which Utah had.
"I didn't make sense to bring him in since he couldn't play for a month," said Agnello.
Pogman left Tucson for reasons he's not shy about mentioning.
"I didn't like the organization, they weren't professional in my mind," said Pogman. "I don't know what it's like since I left, but everything (in Utah) is perfect, just like what I saw when I was playing in France."
Pogman began his professional career in the youth programs of Bordeaux in France, and then played four seasons with F.C. Pao a Second Division French team. He then returned to his native Cameroon and played six seasons.
While returning home to play in a less-powerful league was frustrating at times, he nearly played his way onto the Cameroon national team for the 1994 World Cup. Political reasons kept him off the 22-man roster, he was the third alternate, but training with his elite countryman was an experience that most players only dream about.
Pogman nearly tallied a goal against Tucson, but his rocket from 25 yards was punched wide by Tucson keeper Kevin Zimmerman. It was one of about five quality scoring chances for the Blitzz in the first half compared to Tucson's one, but it was a critical one.
In the 44th minute David Cameron found himself on a breakaway against Utah keeper Eric Landon, but Landon timed his charge perfectly and was able to punch the shot away from danger.
"It was exciting to see Eric Landon making that save," said Agnello.
Utah recently signed Mike Littman, a keeper with MLS and A-League experience. Landon obviously feels the pressure, but he didn't play like a keeper about to lose his starting job as he picked up the shutout.
The Blitzz were nearly forced into overtime as Tucson's Ante Cop banged a shot off the post in the final minute.
It probably should've been a two-goal victory for Utah, but McNicol's apparent goal just two minutes after his first was waved off after the referee had signaled it was a good. The ref consulted with his linesman and then decided McNicol was offside as he received Rich Breza's pass.
Agnello was particularly frustrated because reversals never happen. "In the game of soccer, it doesn't happen. It shouldn't happen," he said.