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Blitzz, Sounders play to draw

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PROVO — One coach complained about cheap shots. The other whined about overly aggressive tackles. Then for a few brief seconds, the coaches quit heckling the ref to aim their banter at each other.

While it's doubtful the coaches will be inviting the other over for tea anytime soon, they'll likely agree on one thing — the Utah Blitzz and the Seattle Sounders don't like each other.

The squads waged an unfriendly war for 110 minutes, with neither team walking away from it very pleased after the scoreless draw.

"We're certainly happy we didn't lose," said Utah coach Chris Agnello. "Against a team in an upper division, they should be better, but with a few good chances, we just about came away with it."

The Sounders compete in the A-League, a step above Utah's Division 3 league. However, both teams are paired together, along with Portland and Northern Nevada, in the same group of the first round of U.S. Open Cup qualifying.

Only one team advances, hence the intense nature of Saturday's match.

"It's always going to be intense, because everyone is trying to advance to the second round to face an MLS team," said Agnello.

So a red card here, a few yellows there, it's all to be expected. That's exactly what the match featured.

Utah opened the game content to be conservative, something Agnello insists his team must do to be competitive. It worked in a 2-1 overtime victory over Portland, also of the A-League, earlier this year, so it's tough to argue with the approach.

It's almost as if Agnello approaches the game expecting his defense to play flawless, which allows a patient offensive approach. He just bides his time patiently, waiting for the precise moment to insert super-sub Kevin Noleen.

Sure enough, the Blitzz defense held tough in the first hour, and sure enough, the offense almost surprised the Seattle defense on a number of counter attacks.

"We've got to be (conservative)," said Agnello. "This is a team with a tremendous amount of experience, and they should be better."

He says "should" with a hint of arrogance, because you can tell he doesn't fear his A-League opponents. He expects to win.

Though the game resulted in nil goals, even that's debatable. In the 65th minute Noleen banged a short-ranged shot off the crossbar, but it was the ricochet that produced controversy. The rebound dropped straight to the ground, and the Utah players insist it crossed the goalline in the process. The linesman disagreed.

The rest of regulation, and the ensuing 20 minutes of overtime, weren't void of chances. Seattle's Craig Tomlinson, who has suited up for the Trinidad & Tobago national team a few times, wasted two breakaway chances. The Blitzz also had numerous chances in the final half hour.

Despite the tie, both teams are still in good shape with 10 points each, which puts them at the top of the group. The rematch will be in Seattle on June 8, and it likely won't be a friendly affair after Saturday's stalemate.


E-mail: jedward@desnews.com