Despite being founded in 1975, it wasn’t until 2004 that the Portland Timbers participated in the U.S. Open Cup for the first time. With the NASL not participating in the competition and no guaranteed spots for A-League squads, Portland had to wait to take part in the oldest continuous national soccer competition in the United States.
To make it into the tournament, the Timbers won two regular season matches against the rival Seattle Sounders that were also used as qualification for the competition. Portland clinched its spot with a 1-0 victory that saw Jake Sagare (above) score the winning goal.
The draw for the Timbers took place on June 10 and saw Portland placed against the winner of the match between USL Pro side, the Utah Blitzz, and the Sacramento Knights of USASA. When the Blitzz defeated the Knights, 3-0, it meant that Portland would travel to Utah, due to a coin flip.
Despite being in different divisions, there were certainly some familiar faces when the clubs met at Rice-Eccles Stadium on June 30, 2004. The clubs had met twice in 2001 in a U.S. Open Cup qualifying round and Utah's leading scorer heading into the match was Fadi Afash, who had played for the Timbers and was still living in Portland at the time of the match. In 2002, Afash had scored 18 goals for Portland, which is still tied for the most goals ever scored by a Timber in a single season.
Portland almost fell behind in the first half, when Afash rounded goalkeeper Josh Saunders, only to be denied by a goalline clearance by Timber defender and current General Manager Gavin Wilkinson. That would be as close as Utah would come to taking the lead as four minutes after Wilkinson's denial, Byron Alvarez put the Timbers ahead after a clinical counter attack. It was the first U.S. Open Cup goal in club history.
Alex Bengard gave the club a 2-0 lead before halftime when his long-range free kick deflected off Utah's wall and past a helpless Chad Sackett. After the second half restart, Afash halved the Timbers lead, scoring a goal from his back. The Blitzz almost tied things up late when former MLS player Jason Boyce hit the crossbar, but the ball stayed out to give the visitors a 2-1 victory.
The victory moved the Timbers into the fourth round of the Cup, where they were defeated by the San Jose Earthquakes. Despite the loss, it was a sign of things to come with more than 10,000 fans in attendance at PGE Park to see an MLS opponent.