In a season that saw every game between Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and Oklahoma City Energy FC decided in the final seconds, it’s only fitting that the decisive Western Conference Semifinal couldn’t be decided in 90 minutes of regulation, nor an additional 30 in extra time. Not until Energy goalkeeper Evan Newton’s stops against Switchbacks star forwards Miguel Gonzalez and Martin Maybin in penalty kicks was this game decided, with OKC advancing into the Western Conference finals against Los Angeles Galaxy 2 this weekend.
The scoring began early, with Switchbacks skipper Luke Vercollone finding the back of the net early in the 5th minute, in what seemed like an impossible angle from the touchline to the far post. The early goal quieted the 6, 370 in attendance at Taft Stadium, until just before the halftime whistle when Chuy Sanchez headed in the equalizer. Going into the break, the score was tied 1-1.
The second half saw both teams take a cautious approach, both afraid to give up the winning goal. Colorado Springs pushed strong at times, outshooting OKC 9-3 in the second half, but could not find the back of the net. Regulation ended with both sides still knotted at 1-1.
That all changed in the 8th minute of extra time, when the home side’s Peabo Doue found the back of the net. Never one to back down, the Switchbacks hung tough and in the 15th minute, Denver native and Smoky Hill High School product, Aaron King beat Evan Newton unassisted. Once again tied, and nearing exhaustion, both teams frantically threw shots at each other until the referee mercifully blew the whistle, with both teams tied at 2-2.
The penalty kick phase started off with captain Vercollone converting, in his usual patented sprinting penalty shots. Likewise, Oklahoma City leading scorer Danni Konig beat Switchbacks keeper Devala Gorrick. Next to take the spot was Belfast Ireland native and Regis University product, Marty Maybin, who was stopped by Newton. The teams matched goal for goal, until Switchback rookie Miguel Gonzalez was denied by Newton, and sending the crowd streaming on the field in celebration.
While the loss itself was a heartbreaker, the season couldn’t be have been more successful for the expansion Switchbacks. Under the careful guidance of head coach Steve Trittschuh, the Switchbacks finished the regular season 14-10-4, and established the home field of Sand Creek Stadium as a formidable location for the visitors, with the home fans nicknaming the field Fortress Sand Creek. In the end, the team finished 40,649 in attendance, averaging over 2,900 fans a game. Considering the lack of any previous professional soccer tradition in Colorado Springs, that can’t be seen as anything but a success.
The quest for the USL 2016 Championship begins in earnest with open tryouts November 21-22nd. After that, coaches Trittschuh and company begin paring down and building the roster for 2016. If its anything like the roster for 2015, Switchback fans have a lot to look forward to.