The Colorado Switchbacks FC have had to plow a tough furrow this season. Last season, being their inaugural, they enjoyed the element of surprise. They were largely unknown and surprised many by reaching the USL (United Soccer League) playoffs at their first attempt.
Additionally, playing in Colorado has its advantages, with Switchbacks Stadium (aka Fortress Sand Creek) being higher even in elevation than the Rapids’ Dicks Sporting Goods Park. Visiting teams tried to go toe-to-toe with the Switchbacks only to find themselves sucking wind by the second half the game and practically on their knees in the final minutes. Not so this year. Traveling teams have wised-up, routinely battening down the hatches, taking a far more cautious and defensive "thrust and parry" type of approach to the game.
In the off-season, Colorado Springs fans applauded when the organization was able to re-sign 15 players from the 2015 roster. Great news, right? By and large yes; but that’s also meant the Switchbacks have had very few surprises to spring on their opposition in 2016. With a few notable exceptions (Christian Ibeagha, Taesong Kim, and the ever-present Josh Suggs), the squad has been largely familiar faces — and opposition teams have taken advantage of that. Last year’s most potent offensive players, Luke Vercollone and Miguel Gonzalez, have been marked men, stifling them somewhat, limiting the number of goals they've been able to score, frustrating them, the team, and the fans in the process.
In short, the Switchbacks have truly had to earn everything they’ve achieved this year. What they’ve achieved, despite all of that sophomore adversity, is a place in the USL Western Conference playoffs for the second successive season!
By beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 2, a team that has spent the majority of the year atop of the USL Western Conference table, the Switchbacks propelled themselves to second spot in the league with just a couple of regular season games to go. The team isn’t settling though. Speaking with organizational and team leadership, including head coach Steve Trittschuh and skipper Luke Vercollone, they won’t consider the league done until a top two spot is a lock — as either a first or second placing would secure a vital home-field playoff advantage.
I know the team would love to top the Western Conference at the end of the regular season, but having missed out on home-field advantage by a single point last season, which meant they had to take a tough and ultimately season-ending trip to Oklahoma City in the second round of the play-offs, they are determined not to fall into the same trap again this year.
This season certainly hasn’t been as straight-forward as the last, when much was made of the team’s free scoring status that put them at the top of the "Goals For" table in the Western Conference. However, it’s exactly that that ability to overcome whatever roadblocks other teams have thrown at the Switchbacks this outing that has made their latest playoff achievement all the more impressive. And it’s exactly that sort of character, resiliency and adaptability that will, I believe, see them secure one of those top two spots, starting by beating the Seattle Sounders 2 Saturday night. Having lost to the Sounders twice by a single goal, both times in Seattle, the Switchbacks will be keen for some measure of revenge.
This is championship competition right in our own backyard, folks. This is the business end of the season. This is when your Colorado Springs Switchbacks need you most. Let’s get out there and enjoy it!
Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett, or the Back Chat show on KCMJ 93.9.