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Switchbacks FC President Nick Ragain talks USL offseason and the future of the franchise

From building a roster, to marketing it to Colorado Springs, Ragain lays out the franchise plan for success.

Switchbacks FC President Nick Ragain and wife Jessica receiving the mayors “Young Leaders Award - Economic Impact” for 2015
Switchbacks FC President Nick Ragain and wife Jessica receiving the mayors “Young Leaders Award - Economic Impact” for 2015
Photo courtesy Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

The offseason has been a mixed bag for Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC fans. Fan favorites like Luke Vercollone and Josh Phillips were retained by the team, but the team also saw the departure of other favorites such as Devala Gorrick, Miguel Gonzalez, and Rony Argueta. Added in with the turmoil of the NASL/USL happenings, there is a general feeling of discontent amongst the Switchbacks faithful. I recently had a chance to speak with Switchbacks FC Team President Nick Ragain and discuss with him the current state of the team, and the direction it would be taking in the future.

I started by asking him about the perceived lack of movement in the free agent market so far. “(Head Coach) Steve (Trittschuh) has a vision and a plan” Ragain told me. “We currently have about 90% of the 2017 team filled out, we’re just waiting on contracts to be approved by the USL and USSF to make announcements.”

“Most contracts in the USL are one year contracts, with very few exceptions, and we knew even before we dropped the ball to start last year that a lot of these guys weren’t coming back in year three.”

“Steve’s looking for players who are interested in getting to the next level. Does change make people nervous? Yeah. But you can push some guys only so far, until they check out. And if you have a guy who is checking out, this probably isn't the best spot for them. Are we gonna want some guys around who are going to check out in playoff game next year? Thats not mental toughness, and thats not what we want.”

“From a fans and supporters standpoint, I get it. It would be easier if it was the same person every year, but this isn't the place where people come to retire. You gotta understand that while we want to present a professional organization, in both front office and on the field, we’re not MLS, or any other tier one American sport, which is where guys go to make big bucks. When you're generating big bucks, and spending big bucks, there’s gonna be a bit more stability.”

“If we wanted to go out and sign players with no thought of long term viability, both us and the league would look a lot more like the NASL right now.”

The mention of NASL brought us to the expected promotion of the USL to Division 2 status. Being one of the smallest markets in the USL, I was curious what that would mean specifically for the Switchbacks. Would it mean an increase in payroll for the team? More revenue? Will it create more stress on the franchise going forward? “That remains to be seen.” he said. “You cant really compare us with teams like Saint Louis, or Sacramento, because their goals aren't tier 2. They are looking to be the next MLS market. And they have the resources and the ownership in place, and that lure is what drives the fans interest. It is difficult to find a comparable situation to what we’re doing here.”

“Colorado Springs is not an MLS market, and we’re not gonna try to pitch that, we’re not gonna try to tell the community that if they hopped on board we would be, it would be pretty phony.”

“You have a lot of markets that are riding the wave of pushing for a MLS team, and its much easier to sell MLS, than it is USL. So will the bump to Division 2 make a difference in this market? For the fans in the stands, Im not so sure. To the local media? It might. A lot here locally are familiar with the USL based solely on what Wikipedia says, and obviously second division sounds better than third. But overall the ramifications for us is yet to be seen.”

So how does a USL franchise with no MLS aspirations operate in a market without a tradition of professional soccer? “We need to have a solid brand recognition, and we need to get people exposed to the sport. We do that with partnerships with local businesses in the community, in fact this season we are starting a new program for smaller business who might not have a need or resources to buy a suite or large blocks of tickets. The Business Club will have an area on the northeast side of Switchbacks Stadium right next to the action on the field, and we expect that to be an experience that businesses will find valuable, and entertaining.”

“When we call a business, if we started off with “We’re selling soccer” only about 20% would respond to that. But when we sell it as a chance to network with other businesses, in a sporting environment that is quite different from say, baseball... from the flow, to the crowd, to the Trailheads, we think we have a formula for success.”

I asked about stadium expansion, and the prospects of the downtown stadium initiative. He acknowledged that they are expanding Switchbacks Stadium further this year, with more south end seating, and north side seating being installed. When I asked about the progress of the downtown stadium, he said he hasn't heard any new news at all about it. What does a lack of new stadium mean for the franchise? “Our position and view is to plan for what we can control. Right now that means we continue to improve the fan experience at Switchbacks Stadium.” (Note: several days after our interview, the Colorado Springs Gazette posted an article about the stalled stadium initiative.)

One of the bigger stories in the offseason is the Colorado Rapids renewing their affiliation with Charlotte instead of Colorado Springs. I asked Nick if the lack of a MLS affiliation, or youth academy or PDL affiliation has hurt the team on the field. “I don't think so. Steve (Trittschuh) has many, many contacts in the USL and outside the country, and Im confident that Steve and his team have the means to find a player to fit their needs.” When pressed on what the lack of affiliation with the Rapids means for the Switchbacks, he said “On the soccer side, there can be a collaboration when its beneficial to both sides. From the front office side, we have zero relationship with the Rapids.”

To end the interview, I half jokingly asked, with news of many NASL teams failing, and the USL’s Wilmington and Montreal FC folding, will the Switchbacks be around in two years? “Thats the plan. We’re in this for the long haul. Lets be honest, in the 2017 USL landscape, Colorado Springs would have never been awarded a franchise. But here we are. We feel blessed to be able put a team on the field, and have a hand in shaping the local soccer scene. It may not be easy, but we have no plans to stop trying.”