The Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC head to the Valley of the Sun on Saturday to take on Phoenix Rising FC for the first time in 2017.
A 9 p.m. start should see temperatures at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex still hovering around triple digits, as Arizona’s capital city has been locked in excessive heat warnings for most of the last few weeks. Due to the dangerous temperatures, players may well be given a water break in both halves of the match if the heat index necessitates such a stoppage.
“We won’t think about the heat,” said right back Jordan Burt immediately following the draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. “We’ve got to go out and play our game no matter the conditions – just like we did in the second half tonight. We can’t and won’t think about factors like the heat. We just control what we can.”
Ivorian superstar Didier Drogba rightly grabs the headlines for Phoenix Rising, as the 39-year-old striker is the most famous and internationally recognized player in USL history. Most known for his time at Chelsea, Drogba’s playing career has spanned three continents and over 100 international appearances for the Ivory Coast. Far and away his country’s all-time leading goal scorer, Drogba is also a part owner of Phoenix Rising FC. Drogba scored a wicked stoppage-time free kick on Saturday night as Phoenix Rising fought back to draw Orange County SC at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California.
“The first thing that comes to mind is playing against a guy I watched as a kid…and shutting him down,” said central defender Josh Phillips when asked about Drogba. “Everyone has to work in this league to be successful and he’s no different.”
“I relish the challenge of facing a player like Drogba,” said Burt. “I was a Chelsea fan growing up so on some levels it’s a bit surreal. Once the game begins and we start playing it’s just another tough test for us, but I think we’ll be amped-up because of the challenge of playing against some of their top guys. It’s always a good test in Arizona and next weekend won’t be any different.”
Drogba isn’t the only big-name player on Phoenix Rising’s roster. Former England international Shaun Wright-Phillips signed with Phoenix after a career that saw the tricky winger play at the very top of England’s Premier League with both Manchester City and Chelsea. Originally moving to North America with the New York Red Bulls after four seasons with London’s Queen Park Rangers, Wright-Phillips has scored twice in thirteen appearances for Phoenix Rising this season.
“It’s really exciting – how could you not see those names and get up for the match?” said Conner Bevans. “We have no choice but to play really well next weekend and their big names should bring out the very best in all of us.”
“Coach will set us up well and get us ready to play,” said captain Rony Argueta. “We’ll try our best to forget about the names and go at Saturday like every other game. No doubt we’re going to be excited for the challenge but we have to come out ready like every other game and keep pushing forward.”
Englishman Luke Rooney – no relation to his famous namesake, Wayne – has scored three times for Phoenix Rising in just five appearances in 2017. Rooney did not feature against Orange County SC on Saturday, so his inclusion against the Switchbacks remains doubtful as does that of Shaun Wright-Phillips who was removed at halftime and replaced by Eric Avila.
Before the start of the 2017 USL season, Phoenix Rising signed two players who had successful stints with the Switchbacks. Forward Mike Seth and defender JJ Greer moved south to Arizona, although both have seen their minutes limited in their first season in Phoenix. Seth has so far logged just 154 minutes in USL play, while Greer has started only four of Phoenix Rising’s fourteen league matches.
The Switchbacks and Phoenix Rising will complete their season-series on Saturday, September 9th at Weidner Field in Colorado Springs. The first 500 fans will receive the 5th and final section in the Poster Giveaway Series, courtesy of Accelerated Wealth.
Switchbacks Head Coach Steve Trittschuh’s team showed their fighting spirit on Saturday as they battled back from relinquishing two first half goals to draw the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 and Weidner Field in Colorado Springs. A delightful finish from winger Masta Kacher was followed by a stunning free kick from second half substitute Kevaughn Frater as the Switchbacks sealed a point that pushed them into 6th place in the USL’s Western Conference at the time of writing.
“If we can play in Arizona like we did in the second half tonight we’ll be fine,” said Trittschuh. “It’s going to be a big challenge for us with the team we’ll face and the heat. We’ve got to focus on all their players – not just the names that stand out. We can’t choose our times to play. We’ll deal with the conditions down there. Tactically we may have to change things up so that we make sure we play like we did in the second half against Vancouver. We have one game a week now so that gives us time to prepare and move things around – we just have to go out and play in Arizona.”
Saturday, July 29th sees the return of the Switchbacks to Weidner Field as they welcome the Seattle Sounders FC 2 to Colorado Springs on 90’s Night with the first 500 fans through the turnstiles receiving a special edition Switchbacks FC POGS Giveaway, courtesy of Weidner Apartment Homes. Tickets start at just $12 and are available here.