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Win should clinch Cup berth

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PROVO — The Utah Blitzz won't know for a couple more weeks whether they'll qualify for the U.S. Open Cup. However, after their 5-0 victory over Northern Nevada on Friday, it's probably a mere formality.

"With the points we have, I'm confident we'll advance," said Utah coach Chris Agnello.

Understanding the whole qualification process, and why Agnello is so confident, can be a bit confusing.

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is the oldest tournament in the country, and it becomes complicated because it's open to any team in the country. All a team must do to become one of the 36 participants is to qualify, and that's what the Blitzz are in the midst of right now.

Of the 36 spots in the Open Cup, 12 are reserved for Major League Soccer teams. The other 24 will be filled by teams in the A-League, Division 3, Premiere Developmental League and U.S. Amateur Soccer Association. It's one of those 24 slots the Blitzz are chasing.

There are two ways to do that.

First, and the easiest mathematically, is for the Blitzz to win their group. They are paired with Portland and Seattle of the A-League, in addition to Northern Nevada of D3. The teams play each other twice, and whoever wins the group joins the other nine A-League/Division 3 group winners in the Open Cup.

After the Blitzz's victory over the Aces, their chance of advancement is decent.

The win improved Utah's point total to 15, which is the same as Seattle. Portland has 13. The qualification process ends next weekend when Utah travels to Seattle on June 8 and Portland on June 9. With two victories Utah would advance, but Agnello knows that will be a very tough task.

The Blitzz would probably be thrilled with a couple of ties, knowing that would probably be good enough to qualify them the other way — the wildcard way.

Six slots in the Cup are wildcards, and assuming no Division 3 team wins its group, five of those wildcard berths are reserved for Division 3 teams.

The format of the Open Cup has always been that the higher-division team always travels to the lower-division team.

As far as Friday is concerned, the drama wasn't whether Utah would win but would it score three goals. In qualification, four points are awarded for a win, and a bonus point is given for scoring three times. Entering the match against the Aces, the Blitzz knew that five points would elevate them into a tie with Seattle with 15 points.

Jorge Estrada got Utah on the board in the first 10 minutes, but it took the Blitzz another 50 minutes to score again, and it seemed that winless Nevada might keep the Blitzz down.

Two second-half goals by Kevin Noleen, and one each from Sterling Wescott and Fadi Afash, assured the Blitzz of that critical bonus point.

Utah hosts Northern Nevada again on Saturday at 8 p.m. at BYU.


E-mail: jedward@desnews.com