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Despite loss, Blitzz feel good about effort

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Tijuana 3, Blitzz 0

Coaches are rarely satisfied. In victory, there are elements that could've been better; in defeat, a coach could critique his team for hours.

Sometimes, however, the outcome is a moot point, as was the case for the Utah Blitzz Saturday night. Asked what he thought following his squad's 3-0 loss to Nacional de Tijuana of Mexico, Blitzz coach Chris Agnello said, "I enjoyed it. It was very exciting."

Agnello hopes the 3,744 fans felt the same way, particularly the Latin-American fans.

When Utah first announced its schedule last winter, there were a pair of to-be-announced games on the schedule. The Blitzz had every intention of hosting an MLS team for one of those games, which occurred last month when Utah hosted the Colorado Rapids and lost 4-0.

Instead of wasting the other date, the organization worked on bringing in another team, one that would put fans in the stands. Tijuana, which competes in the Mexican First Division, was happy to oblige, and about half the fans were Latin Americans.

Many wore Mexican National Team jerseys, some wore sombreros and others played trumpets. It was precisely the spirited atmosphere the Blitzz were hoping for.

"What was exciting was to hear their supporters cheering for their team, and then hearing them cheering for the Blitzz," said Agnello.

Early on, there wasn't much for Agnello to get excited about. His team escaped what should've been a Tijuana goal 40 seconds into the match but couldn't avoid Luis Anaya's header in the sixth minute. Utah was playing on its heels, and the Tijuana fans chanted "Ole" as their squad knocked the ball around the field with up to 15 consecutive passes at times.

"Half our starters didn't start, and we came out kind of flat," said defender Rob Karas. "The second half was a different story."

Because it was an exhibition match, Agnello wanted to give players who otherwise wouldn't have played the opportunity to start. Luis Mata and David Lund got their first starts, as did Cameroon newcomer Alex Pogman.

After falling behind 1-0, Utah generated five quality scoring chances in the first half, and after Blitzz keeper Eric Landon stuffed a Tijuana breakaway in the 40th minute, Agnello decided to go all out in the second half.

He subbed in regulars Shawn Cassella, B.J. McNicol, Glenn Puckrin and Adolfo Ovalle, and it paid immediate dividends.

"We decided to go after it and see if we could go after them, and for 20 minutes we dominated," said Agnello.

In the 55th minute, Cassella's near post shot was barely tipped wide, and eight minutes later, Eric Ripley's shot was punched over the crossbar.

Agnello said his squad was the underdog entering the match, but for 20 minutes Tijuana was the squad doing the chasing. When asked if the final score would've been as lopsided had Utah been playing with a full squad, Agnello said, "No."

Tijuana scored its final two goals in the 82nd and 90th minute.

Fortunately, the outcome didn't concern him too much, it was the experience gained by his non-starters with which he was most pleased.

"All I said to the players was here's your chance," said Agnello. "Some of them did well, others not so good."

Jorge Estrada made the most of his opportunity. The Highland High graduate lived in Mexico for the first 14 years of his life, and to play against a professional squad from his native country, "was exciting when I was in," he said.

About 50 of Estrada's friends and family were in the stands, and he didn't disappoint as he created a couple of quality scoring opportunities with some runs down the sidelines.

Before joining the Blitzz, Estrada played in Utah's Mexican leagues, so his name was familiar to Blitzz fans as well as the Tijuana supporters.

Of course, Estrada would've rather won, but he knew the caliber of the team Utah was playing.

"It was fine because that team we played was a pretty good team," said Estrada.

Utah dropped to 5-2-1 at home, but both losses have been exhibition matches. The second-place Blitzz return to the field next weekend when they travel to Chico and Stanislaus before returning home for games on July 28 and 29.

E-mail: jedward@desnews.com