In soccer, sometimes the white-collar forwards and midfielders grab all the headlines. Every coach knows, however, that a collection of quality blue-collar defenders is what truly makes a team great.
The Utah Blitzz's back four of Tommy Rutter, Jacobi Goodfellow, Will Cummins and Trevor Persson have been the strength of the team for the past six weeks, and they reiterated that fact Friday night with the help of a few posts.
Backed by another solid performance from the defense, Utah beat a very good Boulder Reserves team 1-0 before a season-high crowd of 4,768 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"That's a very good team, and they've always given us tough games," said Utah coach Chris Agnello.
Friday's game was particularly tough from a physical standpoint. The first half hour resembled most games, but then after a few hard-nosed challenges, the intensity increased dramatically. As both teams became increasingly frustrated with the other team's tackles, several shoving matches broke out on the field, and were only quelled by a few yellow cards.
"Those are two good, strong defensive teams, and they're willing to give everything they have for their team," said Agnello.
That bad blood should make for an interesting rematch when the teams meet again July 18 in Boulder.
With the victory, Utah improved to 9-5-3 in the Pro Select League, while Boulder dropped to 11-3-1 in the Premiere Development League, an amateur league a level below Utah's league. The Blitzz now sit on 30 points in the standings, a comfortable five ahead of San Diego in the Western Division with three games remaining.
Along with the defense, the Blitzz have the speed of Byron Carmichael to thank for the win.
In the 64th minute, Carmichael who the Blitzz acquired just two weeks ago took on a defender at the edge of the penalty area. Carmichael's quick first step helped him get around Boulder defender Brett Branan, and then his strength helped hold him off. Instead of letting him go one-on-one with the goalie, Branan was forced to trip him up.
As Boulder's coaches lambasted every referee within ear-shot, Matt Evans buried the penalty kick putting ahead ahead 1-0.
"You create those penalties for yourself with hard work in the box," said Agnello.
The penalty kick nearly gave Utah's defense a false sense of security as Boulder's Alex Salazar duffed what should've been an easy goal two minutes later. Even though Boulder's Peter Lower banged a shot off the post in the 86th minute after hitting a different post in the 24th minute and even though the Blitzz survived several excellent Boulder scoring chances in stoppage time, Agnello wasn't too worried.
"In the last 15 minutes our back four started pulling it together and getting more solid every minute," said Agnello.Utah returns to action Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. when it takes on BYU in Provo.
ENDLINES: The Blitzz are still actively pursuing two more players. Agnello is close to getting the Kansas City Wizards of the MLS to loan Utah third-string keeper Will Hesmer. Utah is also trying to sign a reserve defender. The signing deadline is July 12.
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