Expectations were high coming into Colorado Springs Switchbacks franchise second season. 2015 saw them playoff bound, narrowly missing the Conference finals with a loss to Oklahoma City in extra time penalties. Team captain Luke Vercollone made the All-USL team, and was a finalist for USL MVP. Head coach Steve Trittschuh was nominated for USL Coach of the Year. The team had built a team that could compete for a championship, and the main question heading into the offseason was could the Switchbacks keep the team together. For the most part, they did. The core of the team returned for the 2016 campaign, with Trittschuh adding defenders Christian Ibeagha and Josh Suggs and midfielder Taesong Kim to the regular starting lineup.
In assessing the 2015 season, it was clear that one area of improvement was consistency on defense. Several wins slipped away late with defense breakdowns the cause. The addition of Suggs, who was the captain of Orange County Blues added veteran leadership on the back line. Josh Phillips spent the offseason training with MLS' New England Revolution, and 2015's Young Player of the Year, Jordan Burt returned as well. Ibeagha was the final piece of the backline puzzle.
For the most part, the defense has been the bright spot for the Switchbacks in 2016. At the halfway point, the Switchbacks have conceded only 11 goals in 15 games, best in the Western Conference. Goalkeeper Devala Gorrick has had an outstanding season, with a 0.77 GAA, and a .800 save percentage, both 3rd best in the USL. the low point so far has been the injury of Josh Phillips, who broke his collarbone celebrating a goal against Orange County. Estimates have his return in 2 weeks.
The 2015 offensive output for the Switchbacks was stellar. Their 57 goals tied them for first in the USL. Vercollone had a career high of 14 goals, and with forward Miguel Gonzalez, the only duo in the league with 10+ goals. With both returning, as well as the emergence of Marty Maybin, expectations were high.
Unfortunately, the offensive production has been well below that of last year. At 20 goals, they have the lowest goal total of the current playoff contenders. Maybin leads the team with 5 goals, with Vercollone, Saeed Robinson, Mike Seth and Gonzalez all at 3 goals. Maybin started the season strong, but has been been bumped from the starting lineup for Saeed Robinson, and has been used as a sub off the bench. Gonzalez goals have been stunning displays of skill, but they have been few and far between. The sophomore slump may have him bit. The Switchbacks appear to have lost confidence in their attacking third, either taking speculative, unwise shots from distance, or having too many touches and passing up quality scoring chances. To add insult to injury, last years loanee Chandler Hoffman, signed with Louisville City FC in the offseason, and is currently chasing the league scoring title with 11 goals. One can only dream of what his return to the Switchbacks would have looked like.
Currently, the Switchbacks sit at 8-4-3. By comparison, at 15 games last season, they were 10-5-0. It's a safe observation to note that the team is currently in a 5 game slump, going 1-2-2, and not looking good at all. With a scoreless draw against LA, a home loss to SLC, where Vercollone missed a potentially game tying PK in injury time, a win against SLC that should have been a tie after officials missed a ridiculous handball by Vercollone in injury time, and 1-1 tie last night against Portland, surrendering the tying goal at the 87th minute. By all appearances, the team is slumping, and in need of a quick turnaround.
Heading into the Week 16 weekend matches, the Switchbacks sit in 4th place in the Western Conference with 27 points. 5 points stands between the top of the table, with 6 points below them for the 8th and final playoff spot. It might be cliche, but the season can truly turn in either direction. A second half surge could see them finishing with the top seed, or a continued slump could lead to them looking at the playoffs from the outside. The team needs an offensive spark, and if that doesnt come from anyone on the current roster, it might serve the team well to look for a loan that can provide that spark.
Iron Man: Until he was red carded against SLC, defender Christian Ibeagha had played every minute for the Switchbacks, in both league play, and in Open Cup play.
Brotherhood: A fun side note to the season is the 'mini-rivalry' between Miguel Gonzalez and his brother Daniel, who plays for Oklahoma City Energy. While Miguel has 3 goals this season, Daniel has notched 2 in 3 appearances. The next time the Switchbacks play OKC is August 24th and FSC.
Brotherhood Pt 2: Christian Ibeagha's younger brother, Sebastien, plays for MLS' Houston Dynamo. He has spent time on loan to Rio Grande Valley this season, last appearing in early June. Its conceivable we could see the brothers face off later in the season. Surely that would excite the "Iguana Zone".
Worthless Stat of the Season: The Switchbacks currently lead the league in players named 'Josh' (Suggs, Phillips), and players named 'Kim' (Taesong, and Daewoo). Not sure there is an award for that though.