The Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC return to Weidner Field on Saturday evening as they host their Rocky Mountain rivals, the red-hot Real Monarchs of Salt Lake City.
Saturday marks the second match in just four days for the Switchbacks – and their third in nine days.
As has always been the way of soccer in Sandy, Utah, the Real Monarchs are a team predicated on possession. What’s changed with the 2017 Monarchs is their ability to clinically finish the numerous chances their possession creates.
“They’re [Real Monarchs] a different team than they have been,” confirmed Switchbacks head coach Steve Trittschuh following Monday’s practice at Weidner Field. “They no longer keep the ball just to keep it – now they have the ability to open teams up with direct passes and we’re going to have to be at our best to limit their game.”
Multiple familiar faces could be on show on Saturday evening for the Monarchs, with none more so than former Switchbacks striker Chandler Hoffman. Hoffman played for the Switchbacks in 2015 while on-loan from Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo.
“Chandler moves well off the ball,” said Trittschuh. “He’s sneaky and he’s tough to mark, but our players know him well from his time here.”
Midfielder Nick Besler, the younger brother of U.S. Men’s National Team defender Matt Besler, has seen time against the Switchbacks in the past as a member of the Portland Timbers 2. Canadian striker Daniel Haber is another member of the Real Monarchs who is familiar with the Switchbacks, as the elusive forward spent the 2016 season with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. Haber started for the Whitecaps FC 2 in their 2-1 Conference Quarterfinal victory over the Switchbacks in Colorado Springs on September 30th, 2016.
Texas native Chase Minter is yet another player who could bring his USL experience to Weidner Field on Saturday for the Monarchs, with the midfielder having previously represented both Sacramento Republic FC and the Tulsa Roughnecks.
Diminutive Colombian midfielder Sebastián Velásquez, fresh off being named to the USL’s Team of the Week, enters Colorado Springs after a whirlwind man-of-the-match performance that saw him notch a goal and an assist in the Monarchs’ 5-3 victory over Reno 1868 FC on April 6th.
“Velásquez is a really good, top quality player,” said Trittschuh. “We don’t focus on denying him the ball – we can’t because we know he’ll get his touches. But we must deny him chances in the final third because that’s where he can hurt any team.”
Real Monarchs SLC head coach Mark Briggs, who took over for Mike Petke at the end of March, is perfect in his two games in charge of the Monarchs. Petke was promoted to the head coaching position with Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake – the parent club of the Monarchs.
The Switchbacks return to Colorado Springs after a journey to Texas that saw everything short of a hurricane affect their travel and preparation. “It was a nightmare,” declared Trittschuh on Monday. “Our flight to Houston was delayed, then because of storms we were rerouted to San Antonio where we had just played, and in the end, we didn’t get into Rio Grande Valley [Edinburg, Texas] until midnight…but those are excuses and we’ve told the players that we can’t keep making them. We have to have a short memory and if we don’t have individual mistakes we’ll be fine – we’ve been killing ourselves and putting ourselves behind in games. That stops now.”
Despite the extra rest afforded to the Real Monarchs, not a single Switchbacks player made any excuses related to the Texas travel. “Being back at home gives us a huge boost,” said central defender Josh Phillips. “Sleeping in our own beds and being in our home city gives us all we need to get back on the right track on Saturday. We’re ready to fight in front of our home fans – issues always happen on the road, but now we’re home, we’re in control and Colorado Springs is where we have to win.”
“It’s a quick turnaround for us, but that’s all mental and we won’t and aren’t making any excuses,” said Switchbacks captain Rony Argueta. “We must focus on our game and we all know and can feel that we are progressing well.”
“We have to have short-term memory – we can’t dwell on one thing or one loss,” said forward Shane Malcolm, echoing the sentiments of his head coach. “We gave up soft goals and we know that and we’re working hard to fix it, but for Saturday we are refocused and ready. We hope the weather stays like this for tomorrow because it helps and the fans that come out will push us a lot.”
The only visiting USL team that can legitimately say they’re prepared for the altitude of Weidner Field, the Real Monarchs SLC will enter Saturday’s match fresh from having more than a week off after scoring 5 goals against Reno 1868 FC. But soccer matches aren’t played on whiteboards or on league stat sheets.
Saturday evening’s game will be contested by a group of Switchbacks players who are so focused and motivated to right the wrong of the 3-1 loss to RGV FC that it practically took a winch to pull the players off the Weidner Field surface almost an hour after practice was scheduled to finish.
“The time is now to put what we’ve been working on into action. We’ve got to go out, work hard, and get the 3 points,” said a succinct Switchbacks assistant coach Wolde Harris, who as always was front and center during Friday’s training session. “We have to learn from the mistakes we’ve made and we’ve got to move quickly to eliminate those from our game. Psychologically we must come prepared to execute what we need to, keep up our level of communication, and know that keeping the game compact defensively will be key for us on Saturday.”
The Switchbacks will return to USL action at Weidner Field on April 29th as the Seattle Sounders FC 2 visit Colorado Springs.