PROVO — Fadi Afash slowly jogged to the sideline, arms spread out like an airplane, as much in celebration as in relief.
Twice before the Blitzz forward had banged shots off the post, but this time the ball had found nothing but the back of the net. The early second-half tally was a timely insurance goal as the Utah Blitzz went on to defeat the Denver Cougars 3-1 Saturday night.
"Last year they took us to overtime, so we knew they were a good solid team," said Agnello. "We pretty much expected them to come in and play strong."
Even though the victory was against a team in the Premiere Development League, a lower division than Utah's, the win still counts in the standings for the now 9-1 and first-place Blitzz. Don't be fooled by Denver's league either, they're far superior to the Division 3 Northern Nevada club that Utah crushed four times earlier this year.
Utah was well-aware of Denver's skills and really wasn't surprised with how evenly the first half hour was played. It wouldn't have seemed so even if Afash's 17th-minute bicycle kick and his 22nd-minute rocket hadn't clanked off the posts.
Those near-misses by Afash actually seemed to revive Denver, because after each one the Cougars had a chance of their own.
All throughout the first half, Agnello kept yelling at his team to "keep it simple."
He wasn't pleased with some of the poor decisions at inopportune times. Gradually they actually began listening.
Ironically, it was Jorge Estrada, a player who often doesn't keep it simple, who got Utah's offense going. In the 37th minute he received a pass in the box from Rich Breza, made a simple move to dance around the defender, before unspooling a shot past a helpless keeper.
Despite the lead, and a solid defensive effort, Agnello wasn't completely satisfied. In Utah's league, a team is awarded four points for a win, and a bonus point for scoring three goals. Considering Utah is in a dog fight with Chico for the Western Conference title, every point is crucial.
Adolfo Ovalle provided that bonus point with an 83rd minute penalty kick.
"Three goals is nice, but we had a dozen chances from the beginning to the end," said Agnello. "I'm not entirely comfortable with a few of the people we have up top."
He's got about three days to shore that up.
Utah's next game will be at the Milwaukee Rampage in a U.S. Open Cup second-round game on Wednesday. The four first-round games were played last week between PDL and amateur teams.
The Blitzz's game will be the first of a doubleheader at 1:30 p.m. The second game features the Chicago Fire, the defending U.S. Open Cup champs, against San Diego of the A-League.
Milwaukee is a very tough defensive team, and Agnello knows that mediocre play from his forwards just won't cut it.