It was the ideal evening for the first United Soccer League match ever held in a neutral market.
A sold-out crowd of 4,352 showed up Saturday night at Rocky Mountain High with temperatures sitting in the 90s to see Portland Timbers 2 take on the Swope Park Rangers.
Portland, with a bit of a homefield advantage and a legion of loyal fans behind it, took the 2-1 victory, holding on after the Rangers made it interesting with a late goal. Plus, there was some local flavor on the field as Eagle native Blake Bodily and Pocatello native Terrell Lowe started for Portland.
“It was awesome. I’m just glad I got an opportunity to play here, play 90 minutes,” Bodily said. “It was an exciting game, couldn’t ask for more.”
On the Rocky Mountain turf, T2 took a little while to warm up in the heat but made the most of offensive opportunities. Neco Brett blasted a free kick from 22 yards out into the far upper corner of the Rangers’ net in the 27th minute to get Portland (5-6-1) on the board.
“It feels really good. ... I was going to curl it in the near post, but I realized they made a big gap inside the wall, so I decided I’m just going to go straight through,” said Brett, who made his MLS debut May 22 against Vancouver.
Brett, a speedy native of Jamaica, added an assist in the 70th minute when he booted the ball just past the Swope Park defense onto the foot of Victor Arboleda, who checked in 4 minutes earlier in his first game since April.
Swope Park (3-5-2), an affiliate of Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City, got back into it in the 85th minute when Mark Gonzalez chipped a long ball over overeager goalie Kendall McIntosh from 30 yards out.
“I thought we had some good play. First half did some decent stuff; second half kind of broke down a little bit. Conditions were difficult for both teams,” Portland coach Andrew Gregor said. “... Happy to get the result.”
The match was more than just the result, as the USL continues to eye Boise as a potential expansion market. The league has 29 teams, with one in Reno expected to join next year. The strong turnout was only able to help the process.
“It was really encouraging to see,” USL President Jake Edwards said. “... We’ve had interest in Boise for a while now, and to have this crowd when neither is the local team, we feel pretty good about the market.”
Edwards, whose league is based out of Tampa, Fla., planned to stay in the area another day to speak with local leaders and look at possible stadium options. He noted the minimum capacity is 5,000 for a USL team and said a handful of options are possible, from existing venues to possible sites for a new structure. Should there be a strong ownership group and an existing site, Edwards said a 2018 start could be possible for a Boise-based team.
From the winning team’s point of view, the night was a complete success.
“It’s nice to have a little buzz about it. ... I wasn’t surprised the people from Boise would turn out,” Gregor said.
Added Bodily: “Just my family’s probably seen me play in Portland. Ever since I moved, I don’t think any of my friends had seen me play, so it was pretty sweet.”
Brett, who had not played in Boise before, left very impressed.
“Wow,” he said. “I loved the environment. ... When I went outside and saw so many fans, I was like ‘Neco, come on, you’ve got to go out there and be your best.’ ”