Here is our preview of our friends to the south, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. They open their USL season on the road at OKC Energy FC this Saturday at 6:00 PM MDT and the match will be streamed via YouTube.
Year founded: 2015
2015 record, standing in playoffs: 14-10-4, 3rd seed in the Western Conference
2015 playoffs: Defeated Seattle Sounders 2 in First Round 2-0, eliminated in Conference Semi-Finals to Oklahoma City Energy on extra time penalties.
Key additions: Josh Suggs (D), Billy Thompson (GK) Jacob Cawsey (M)
Key departures: Samir Badr (GK), Kley Bejarano (D) Jamie McGuinnes (D)
Projected/ideal starting XI:
(GK) Devala Gorrick
(D) Josh Suggs, JJ Greer, Josh Phillips, Jordan Burt
(MID) Rony Argueta, Luke Vercollone, Shintaro Harada
(FOR) Miguel Gonzalez, Saeed Robinson, Mike Seth
The Switchbacks inaugural campaign can only be viewed as a success, as they rose from nothing to 1 point away from top seed in the Western Conference. This season, nearly the entire team returns, except now, they have the added weight of expectations on their collective shoulders. The biggest re-signing is captain Luke Vercollone. 2015 was a break out season for midfielder, with 14 goals, 9 assists, a spot on the All-USL First Team, and finalist for USL MVP. But most important, he brings his considerable leadership skills, which if the team is to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, veteran leadership will be critical.
Head coach Steve Trittschuh is gambling that roster stability will be an advantage this year. The most notable departure is keeper Samir Badr, who started last year as the top keeper, but eventually was bumped by Devala Gorrick for the starting spot. Badr was dealt to the expansion Bethlehem Steel in the offseason, while the Switchbacks brought in former Orange County Blues and PDL standout Billy Thompson and University of Denver keeper Dan Jackson to back up Gorrick. The biggest addition of the offseason was the signing of former Orange County Blues captain, defender Josh Suggs. He brings with him a veteran presence on the back line, that while formidable, had a tendency to break down late in games last year, as the team surrended many goals in the final moments of games.
Why you should watch the Switchbacks in 2016: The highest scoring team in the Western Conference last year will look to repeat their attacking style in 2016. With an offseason that saw many players training with MLS teams, last years young players and rookies now have a bit more seasoning, and with veteran leadership of Vercollone, Shin Harada and Josh Suggs, the Switchbacks could be very dangerous, and primed for a deep run in the playoffs this year.
3 Players to watch:
Miguel Gonzalez (Mid): Last year, Gonzalez had a breakout season, with 10 goals and 7 assists. He and Vercollone were one of the few teammates in the USL last season to score at least 10 goals each. After training with the MLS Colorado Rapids in the offseason, Gonzalez looks to become a serious attacking threat, and build off his rookie campaign. Another impressive side could see him looking to move up to the next level in 2017.
Josh Phillips (D): Another young player who won a spot on the starting roster early last year, he became an anchor on a backline that, while tied for first in the Western Conference for shutouts (10) appeared shaky at times. Phillips spent most of the offseason, and preseason training with the MLS New England Revolution. The time spent gave him valuable experience about how to compete at a higher level. Not being offered a contract with the Revs will no doubt be a motivating factor for his play this year.
Devala Gorrick (GK): It was criminal that Gorricks success last season was greatly ignored by the USL. Despite 9 shutouts in 21 games, (0.43 average, 2nd overall in the USL) he was never recognized on the weekly USL Team of the Week, nor was a finalist for Goalkeeper of the Year. He enters this season firmly entrenched in the starters role, and it will be hard for him to continue being Colorado Springs’ best kept secret.
Honorable Mentions: Two players who look to make a step from the bench to starting roles, are Marty Maybin (F) and Nate Robinson (D). Both had productive seasons last year off the bench, but this preseason have made an impact that Coach Trittschuh cannot ignore. Look for them to be pushing for more minutes, and competing for starting roles.
The 2016 season will be a success if…The defense can avoid late game lapses resulting in goals. In a conference that saw the Switchbacks miss out on the top seed by 1 point, and 5 points separating the teams that made the playoffs, the team cant afford to surrender easy points, as they did against Sacramento Republic at home, giving up 2 goals in the final minutes to turn a victory into a tie, and the injury time goal by Oklahoma City Energy, turning a tie into a loss. The defense will look to hold strong, especially at home (dubbed Fortress Sand Creek by fans last season). If the attacking style continues to produce goals, and the defense can avoid late game lapses, the Switchbacks could go deep into the playoffs, with an eye on the league trophy.