Just like that, the first quarter of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC 2017 campaign in complete, and what a mixed bag it was. The Switchbacks came into the 2017 season after an offseason roster retooling that saw the departure of three of the four top scorers from 2016, and it was fair to say that fans weren't sure what to expect. After the first eight games, its been a mixed bag of results. Lets take a look at what we know so far.
After eight games, the Switchbacks are 3-2-3 with 12 points, and sitting in 3rd place in the USL Western Conference. Its hard to gauge statistically where the team actually sits in the league, due to the win by forfeit against Tulsa. The 3-0 official result comes with no scorers, no shots, no passes. The official tally seems to have negated Shane Malcolm's goal on his season total. Offensively, the team sits 6th in the league for goals (12), and 6th in shots (98). After 8 games in 2016, the Switchbacks had a record of 6-2-0.
The Low Point
The low point of the season was the first game of the season at Tulsa. The Roughnecks put the Switchbacks to the sword with a 4-1 thrashing. New goalkeeper Justin Luthy made several mental errors, allowing easy goals. The team looked lost at times, and for the next week, fans despaired that the winning ways of the previous two seasons were gone. The Switchbacks were given a mulligan when news came down from the league nearly three weeks later that Tulsa had used an ineligible player and forfeited the game. The early hole the team found themselves in now seemed a little less insurmountable. While the USL scorekeepers wiped away all traces of the game that was actually played, the memory remains of the sour taste the game left. For Justin Luthy, he hasn't seen the starting lineup since, supplanted by Dan "Stonewall" Jackson and Moise Pouaty.
The High Point
In an almost poetic circumstance, the Switchbacks faced Tulsa at home for the 8th game of the season. The feeling of revenge (however misplaced it may be), was thick in the air for both Tulsa and Colorado Springs fans. Roughneck fans agitated at having their early victory negated by a paperwork error, and Switchbacks fans were annoyed at feeling as if they needed to apologize for their success.
The Switchbacks set the tone early, with Masta Kacher scoring in the 2nd minute, Shane Malcolm following it up with a 27th minute goal. Kacher closed the books on the night with his second goal at 69 minutes. The 3-0 victory was the team’s first actual shut out of season, and put to rest any lingering doubts that the team could not compete for a championship in 2017.
The game also saw the debut of Ricky Perez, on loan from the Colorado Rapids. The Rapids homegrown player made an immediate impact, scoring in the 40th minute. The Switchbacks are going to need him to continue being productive, with injuries to midfielders Luke Vercollone and Chris James.
The Turning Point
If the Switchbacks end up having a successful season, they might look back to a frozen night in April as the starting point. A cold front moved through the Pikes Peak region on April 29th, and temperatures for the evenings match against Seattle at Weidner Field plummeted into the teens and single digit. Strong winds, low temps, and a frozen field made for horrible playing conditions for both teams, but a red card on defender Pascal Eboussi in the 18th minute made the situation almost untenable for the Switchbacks.
The teams were knotted at 1-1 at halftime, and Seattle put the hammer down, scoring in quick succession at 51st and 54th minutes. Down a man, and now down 1-3, it would have been understandable for the team to close shop and ride out the final 35 minutes. Instead, they rallied, and began applying nonstop pressure. They were rewarded when Jordan Burt fired a rocket to score at 70 minutes. While they never did find the equalizer, they might have found their fighting spirit that seemed to be lacking. They went out on the pitch a group of players, but left it that frozen night as a team. We are now two games from that night, and they have not surrendered a goal since.
Early Season MVP
Algerian-Canadian Masta Kacher has begun to make a name for himself early in the season, with 4 goals in 8 games, twice nominated for USL Goal of the Week (winning one) and an appearance on the USL Team of the Week. Together with Shane Malcolm with two official goals (three if you figure in the non-game at Tulsa) the Switchbacks might be finding their scoring identity at the same time the defense is starting to gel.
The Next Eight
As of this writing, the Switchbacks are already one game into the next quarter of the season, a tie against Portland T2 0-0. They continue the three-game road trip against Vancouver on May 14th before traveling to Salt Lake City for a tough match against the Monarchs. The two teams faced off earlier this season, and Colorado Springs handed the second place Monarchs the only blemish on their record.
On June 21, the Switchbacks make their first trip to Kansas City to face the defending Western Conference Champions, the Swope Park Rangers.
After that, they hit the halfway point of the season in a huge matchup at home against San Antonio. San Antonio has looked unstoppable this season, starting their first eight games undefeated, 7-0-1, with their only blemish a 1-1 tie against the Switchbacks. If the teams continue their current trajectory, this has USL Game of the Week written all over it.