Home Ground: Weidner Field; Colorado Springs, Colorado
Manager: Steve Trittschuh
2017 Finish: 9th, Western Conference
Nickname: Switchbacks (C’mon, It’s Right There In the Name)
High: Colorado Springs play their home matches at Weidner Field, roughly 6,500 feet above sea level, the highest elevation of any American professional side’s stadium.
Low: Colorado Springs finished a franchise-worst ninth place in the west last season, missing out on the playoffs and mounting their worst U.S. Open Cup run yet.
Building a Club
Despite a disappointing finish in 2017, the Switchbacks have not been without their share of highs. Under the keen tutelage of former U.S. Men’s National Team defender Steve Trittschuh, the side finished an impressive third in the Western Conference during their inaugural 2015 campaign. The sole expansion side (of four that joined the league) to make the playoffs that year, only a penalty shootout loss to Oklahoma CIty Energy FC prevented them from reaching the conference finals.
2016 saw a return to the playoffs for the Switchbacks, finishing third in the west once again. Round one: the equally alpine Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. Colorado Springs got an early start up the mountain with a seventh minute headed goal from midfielder Vercollone. The Canadians quickly adjusted to the thin air, however, and two goals before the break were enough to send the Switchbacks back to basecamp.
Unfortunately, Colorado Springs still had further to fall. Despite closing out the 2017 season with three straight victories, a dismal summer which saw them only pick up three wins in three months meant the side would miss out on the playoffs for the first time in club history. If it’s any consolation to the club, this did mean extra time to enjoy all that the U.S.News Best Places to Live in the U.S. runner-up had to offer. It seems the low unemployment rate was not impacted too poorly by the additional time off for these professionals.
Leading goal scorer Kevaugn Frater said his goodbyes in the offseason, but the goals have still been coming from familiar sources. Veteran defender Josh Suggs has one, as does striker Akwafei Ajeakwa. The forward has started every match this season, leaving him only one away from matching the six appearances he made last year.
The only man to bag multiple goals however may be surprising to anyone outside the Trailheads Supporters Group faithful. Right back Jordan Burt has chipped in with two of his own. A defender racking up the goals might seem strange to you and I, but Switchbacks supporters saw him net eight in 2017, enough for second-top scorer in the squad. I suppose he does have the benefit of both being the side’s primary penalty taker and often being deployed as a central midfielder as well, but still, get in, son!
Following a home opener win over LA Galaxy II, the Switchbacks found themselves sliding back down the table. Three straight goalless losses meant they returned home this weekend with something to prove. Taking on Rio Grande Valley, the side battled bravely holding off the visitors in a hotly contested and evenly matched first half. On the front foot, only a fully outstretched Nicolas Corti was able to stop the Switchbacks from going ahead on the stroke of halftime.
A rapid fire pair of set pieces midway through the second half saw the home side in front for the first time since opening day. Josh Suggs’ curling free kick bounced in the box before finding its way into the far post. The ball swung perfectly around the wall, Corti was forced to wait to see if any of the onrushing attackers would get a touch, delaying his diving effort long enough to watch helplessly as it drifted over the line. Seven minutes later, the Switchbacks were awarded a penalty, and Jordan Burt made no mistake about it, burying it in the top left corner. Despite conceding in the 80th minute, the Switchbacks held on and left Weidner Park with a critical three points.
It's All Uphill From Here
Colorado Springs now find themselves in familiar territory: ninth in the Western Conference. Only one point separates them from the playoff positions and most importantly, they halted that terrible three game slide. However, the turnaround is not without concern. Of their four goals this year, only one has come from open play, and even that required tremendous individual effort by Ajeakwa. The Switchbacks have only managed to keep a clean sheet once in five matches this year, so finding that offensive rhythm quickly is going to be key moving forward.
On the defensive side of things, Trittschuh may need to just find a plan and stick with it. In five matches, the Switchbacks are yet to field the same back line twice. I guess they’re living up to their namesake, but the chaos of switching backs seems to be proving costly. In fact, even their keepers are splitting time, Steward Ceus starting the first three matches, but benched for Moise Pouaty in the last two. Organization is absolutely critical to maintaining the solidity at the back, and the constant ins and outs of various players could continue to cause trouble going forward.
Making full use of their unique home field advantage will be a key part of the Switchbacks season going forward. In their last playoff season, they lost at home just a single time. This year they reached that tally in the second week of the season. Colorado Springs have some rugged terrain on the horizon, but with some defensive stability and offensive rhythm, a push for the playoff summit isn’t out of the picture.
Saturday, April 14 at Reno 1868 FC; 10:00 PM EDT
All USL matches are streamed live on the league’s Youtube channel at www.youtube.com/user/USLPRO
Author: Busby Cagle