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Expectations Are High As Preseason Begins For Switchbacks FC

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Core unit returns and aim for loftier goals in 2016.

Captain Luke Vercollone aims high for the upcoming season.
Captain Luke Vercollone aims high for the upcoming season.
Courtesy of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

Few expected the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC to make waves in their inaugural 2015 USL season. An expansion team in a small market without a history or tradition of professional soccer seemed like a stretch when announced in 2014. Credit the owner, Ed Ragain, for putting into place the pieces that setup success on the field. From the announcement of US Mens National Team veteran Steve Trittschuh as coach, to the signing of the first player, Luke Vercollone, every move seemed perfect. The Switchbacks would go on to make the playoffs, finishing 1 point out of first place in the Western Conference, and advancing to the semifinal round, before succumbing to the Oklahoma City Energy in a dramatic, down to the wire game that was decided on penalty kicks. Coach Trittschuh went on to be nominated for USL Coach of the Year, and captain Vercollone had a career best season, making the USL All First Team, and nominated for league MVP. As the wins piled up at what fans affectionally coined "Fortress Sand Creek", fans began turning out in greater numbers, ending the season with an attendance of more 4500 against the LA Galaxy II in the home finale.

Expectations heading into the first true offseason seemed high, if not guarded. While not officially a development league, the 3rd Tier USL is not the ideal location for most of the players in the league, with everyones sights set on the big leagues. Being one of only a handful of teams in the USL not affiliated with an MLS club, fans worried that other teams would be quick to poach our hometown stars with the promise of a shot at the big time. With several players, including skipper Vercollone, and forward Miguel Gonzalez both got invites to train with the Colorado Rapids, and stand out defender Josh Phillips an opportunity to train with the New England Revolution

The fans worry was quickly relieved when the team announced the re-signing of Vercollone, and in subsequent weeks the re-signing of most of the core group of players, including keeper Devala Gorrick, Gonzalez, Phillips, mids Rony Argueta, Kevin Durr, Davy Armstrong, Nate Armstrong and Shintaro Hirada, forwards Mike Seth, Marty Maybin, Aaron King, and Saeed Robinson, and defenders Kevin Durr, JJ Greer. 

Josh Phillips parlayed his opportunity for an invite to camp with the Revs, and should his MLS dreams come true, the Switchbacks signed away defender Josh Suggs from Western Conference rival OC Blues. The other major departure saw last years starting goalkeeper Samir Badr being moved to the new Philadelphia Union affiliate, Lehigh Valley Bethlehem Steel. Badr never quite got settled into his role as keeper, and lost the starting job early to Gorrick. Terms of the deal sending Badr to LVBS were not disclosed. To replace Badr as #2 keeper is former OC Blues keeper and PDL Goalkeeper of the Year in 2014 with FC Tucson, Billy Thompson.

The returning players hopes are high. "I love the group of guys we have, and know we’re going to get amazing support from Colorado Springs and have another incredible season for the community again." Luke Vercollone told KCMJ 93.9 fm's, Back Chat Show. "Just couldn’t be more excited to get going!". "We built a great chemistry last year, which was a big reason for our success. It’s an advantage to have most of the team back this year because we’re starting a long preseason already all on the same page." said midfielder Nate Robinson, "Last season we were proud to have such strong support from the fans. Playing us at home was a difficult task for many teams because of it. I hope the fans will be behind us again this year and bring a lot of energy. We all want a Championship this season!"

The season starts where last years ended, at Tuft Stadium in Oklahoma City against the Energy FC, March 26th. The Switchbacks are hoping for not only to get the season started on the right foot, but for some revenge as well. In all 3 meetings against the Western Conference foe last season ended in the final moments, with a home opening loss in injury time, and and game tying PK in injury time at Tuft. The heated contests have led to a minor rivalry between the teams, and the early meeting could have playoff ramifications down the road.